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1700 bc TO 1700 ad

Barry K. Gills and Andre Gunder Frank

It has not been sufficiently appreciated that a theory of cyclical change also includes a theory of shifts of centres in space. In other words, expansion and contraction processes have rarely been stable. This may involve infra-regional shifts in influence between competing centres within a single core area... [and also] oscillations in intra-core hegemony are interspersed by much larger scale shifts in arrangements of centres and their peripheries.... It is ultimately the temporal that is seen to dominate over the spatial shifts in the waxing and waning of particular centres. This is generally true of all the long cycle theories. (Rowlands 1987: 10)

Thus the cliche "rise and fall," which has been indiscriminately applied to nations, empires, civilizations, and now world systems is too imprecise. In the course of history, some nations, or at least groups of them, have gained relative power vis-a-vis others and have occasionally succeeded in setting the terms of their interactions with subordinates.... When this happens, it is called a "rise." Conversely the loss of an advantageous position is referred to as a "decline."... [There is a world system] rise when integration increases and ... decline when connections along older pathways decay. Such restructuring is said to occur when players who were formerly peripheral begin to occupy more powerful positions in the system and when geographic zones formerly marginal to intense interactions become foci and even control centres of such interchanges. (Abu-Lughod 1989: 334)


In this paper, we explore the relationship between economic cycles and crises of accumulation and their relation to hegemonic shifts in the world system. Our basic theoretical approach is that the fundamental cyclical rhythms and secular trends of the world system should be recognized as having existed for some 5,000 years, rather than the 500 years that has become the conventional timespan in other world system and long-wave approaches (Wallerstein 1974; Modelski 1987). We have already set out this approach both jointly and individually elsewhere (Gills and Frank chapter 3 above; Frank 1990a, b, 1991; Gills 1989). Our focus is upon accumulation of surplus or capital accumulation as the "driving force" of the expansion and dynamic of the world system. We see accumulation to have been continuous but cyclical over several thousand years. We believe that the world process of capital accumulation has gone through identifiable economic crises, which have also been reflected in political crises of hegemony, and vice versa.

This paper seeks to explore this dynamic and these relationships throughout the AfroEurasian oikumenae as fir buk is we can trace them. We believe that the pattern of world systemic accumulation, crises, and hegemonic shifts is also relevant to the present crisis and hegemonic decline in the world system.

In this introduction, we confine ourselves to a brief summary of some similarities and differences between our approach and some others. Our perspective and focus are on the world system and its history. For us, the essential defining characteristics of this world "system" are the area or "system" of effective surplus transfer and interpenetrating accumulation. As we discussed in chapter 3 above (p. 93):

This means that surplus extraction and accumulation are "shared" or "interpenetrating" across otherwise discrete political boundaries. Thus, their elites participate in each others' system of exploitation vis-a-vis the producing classes. This participation may be through economic exchange relations via the market or through political relations (e.g. tribute), or through combinations of both.... This interpenetrating accumulation thus creates a causal interdependence between structures of accumulation and between political entities. Therefore the structure of each component entity of the world system is saliently affected by this interpenetration.... This transfer [of surplus or political competition for the same] means that no part of the world system would be as it was and is without its relations with other parts and the whole.

Wallerstein and others argue that continuous capital accumulation is the differentiae specificae of the modern world-capitalist system, Wallerstein (1988: 108) has also identified other fundamental characteristics of the capitalist world-system, which supposedly distinguish it from all other previous historical social systems. These are: 1) core-periphery structures, 2) A/B phases of economic expansion/contraction (or reduced growth), and 3) hegemony-rivalry. Wallerstein argues that this trinity represents a grpattem maintained over centuries... unique to the modem world-pystem. Its origin was precisely in the late fifteenth century" (1988: 108). Elsewhere, Wallerstein has further elaborated this trinity of characteristics I into six points (Wallerstein 1989a: 8-10), and still further into twelve1 {Wallerstein 1989b: 3-4). However, this elaboration makes little difference. We would only place further stress on another characteristic of the world system, which Wallerstein and others have also observed. That is its "economy/polity contradiction." The economic interlinkages and integration of the world economy are always more intensive and extensive than its political ones, which tend to be more fragmented and territorially bounded. Other scholars, including Chase-Dunn (1986), Abu-Lughod (1989), and Wilkinson (1987, 1989), have also identified these same characteristics earlier than 1500 and outside Europe or a Eurocentric world system.

We agree that these three patterns characterize the modern period of the world system. However, we argue that they are equally appropriate for the world economy/system before 1500, whether fully "capitalist" or not. With specific reference to Wallerstein's "characteristics," this argument is spelled out in chapter 6 below. In general, we identify these same characteristics over several thousand years throughout the world system in all our above-cited work, and also again in the present chapter.

However, in this paper we examine this economy/polity contradiction by concentrating on exploring "only" how apparently world system wide economic expansion/contraction affects hegemonic political developments, and vice versa. Related center/periphery structures, for instance, will also be implicit or visible along the way; but they are not explicitly dealt with here.

Much of world system theory to date has focused on identifying a succession of hegemons since 1500. This succession is usually conceived as a succession from one single power to another, and from "like to like" in terms of the role or function of the hegemon in the world system. Even so, all analysts also recognize periods without a single hegemon and/or with acute rivalry among would-be hegemons. We argue in this chapter that this same pattern can and should be traced much farther back through world system history.

Moreover, the emphasis on a single hegemon and/or the succession from one to another is perhaps misplaced. Like Fernand Braudel and Janet Abu-Lughod, we find many periods without a single all-encompassing hegemon, but rather with a set of interlinking hegemonies, which characterizes the entire world system at any given point in time. However, if we concentrate exclusively on the role and properties of that one predominant hegemon, we may miss the character and importance of the entire set of the interlinking hegemonies. For example, "the world system of the thirteenth century was organized on a very different principle. Rather than a single hegemon, there were a number of coexisting 'core' powers, jjiaf both via conflictual and cooperative relations, became increasingly integrated" (Abu-Lughod 1989: 341).

Similarly in the sixteenth century, overemphasis on the role of Portugal in the world system leads to a distortion of the actual overall structure of interlinking hegemonies in tper. Portugal may have been a leading or predominant maritime power, but certainly also coexisted and interlinked with a set of other very significant hegemonies, such as the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, the Mughals, and the Ming. Therefore, die fixation on a single hegemon, and the succession from it to another, may exaggerate the role and importance of that hegemon to the detriment of an understanding of the role of others. We can best understand the political organization of the world economy by taking into account this wider framework of interlinking hegemonies.

Before going on to discuss hegemonic transitions, it is useful to discuss briefly hegemony itself. In our view, hegemony should be defined with an emphasis on accumulation. In this way, the definition of hegemony is more general, and therefore perhaps more flexible. As discussed in chapter 3 above, hegemony may be defined as a hierarchical structure of the accumulation of surplus among political entities, and their constituent classes, mediated by force. A hierarchy of centres of accumulation and polities is established that apportions a privileged share of surplus, and the political economic power to this end, to the hegemonic center/state and its ruling/propertied classes.

From this perspective the primary object and principal economic incentive of a bid for hegemony is to restructure the regional if not overarching system of accumulation in a way that privileges the hegemon for capital/ surplus accumulation. Therefore, hegemony is a means to wealth, a means to accumulation, and not merely or perhaps even primarily a means to "power" or to "order." The political and economic processes involved in accumulation and hegemony are so integral as to constitute a single process rather than two separate ones. Therefore we need not be drawn into debate over infrastructural versus superstructural determinants of change, nor need we attempt to separate the state (and states) from the social formation or to derive one from the other.

Only on some historic occasions can we say that, among these interlinked hegemonies, there was one hegemonic power which is in some sense in an overall predominant economic or military position. As noted earlier in chapter 3 we call that a "super-hegemon" which engages in "super-accumulation" in the world system. In that case, we can and must analyze hegemonic transitions on the scale of the world system as a whole. Superaccumulation is defined as "a privileged position ... [in the world system as a whole], in which one zone of the world system and its constituent ruling-propertied classes is able to accumulate surplus more effectively and concentrate accumulation at the expense of other zones." This position of super-accumulator may be translated into further political (and economic) power via a bid for "super-hegemony" in the world system. That is, a super-hegemon is the hegemon among hegemons. The focus of super-accumulation has shifted over time and space in the development of the world system and it is indeed one of our central research goals to explain why and how these shifts occurred when and where they did, and to explore the effects on the world system as a whole. In the past, the focus of attention on transitions between modes of production deflected attention from the great significance of these hegemonic transitions. The concepts of super-accumulation and super-hegemony allow us to study both the single succession of super-accumulating super hegemons and the overall context of the interlinking hegemonies within which this occurs.

If coexisting, interlinked hegemonies, in their ups and downs, appear to be occurring simultaneously (i.e. "synchronized"), this might be evidence that there exists some connection among them and their respective patterns that may be more than the sum of the parts. The identification of correlations in events, like those which Frederick Teggart (1939) established between Rome and China (and which we shall examine below), may be empirical evidence also of their mutual connections and perhaps for the existence of a world system wide process and rhythm. This rhythm affects all parts of the world system simultaneously, though differently (not necessarily all at exactly the same moment), and thus accounts for the synchronization we observe. Therefore, this rhythm should be regarded as specific to the world system and not simply to the pans. Not should this rhythm be regarded as a mere coincidence in parallel patterns among various regions.

Thus, a framework of analysis built upon understanding the mutual relations of the entire set of coexisting and interlinking hegemonies, generates a different set of questions than one based upon the idea of a succession of single hegemonies. In our suggested framework, the dynamic interaction of the constituent hegemonies is the central focus. In particular, we highlight how the "internal" cycles of each hegemonic structure are affected by and in turn affect the "internal" cycles of other hegemonies, and how these are related to any world system wide economic and political cycles. For instance, do different hegemonies go "up" or "down" together? If so, is there an explanation for this in an independent variable such as a world systemic economic cycle? If the cycles of the different hegemonies are not synchronized, then how does that affect each of them and the overall organization of the world system? For instance, if one hegemon is in a phase of consolidation and is centralizing accumulation and expanding while another is in a phase of disintegration, decentralization of accumulation, and contraction, how do they affect one another? Clearly, the overall set of interlinking hegemonies is always characterized over the long term by the dynamic "rise and fall" among the coexisting and yet rival hegemonies.

We suggest that there may be a very long-term and world system wide general rhythm in the pattern of hegemonic transition. At several points in world history we find a period of simultaneously consolidating hegemonies. That is, several hegemonies are expanding simultaneously over the scope of the world system as a whole. During such a period, there is usually a high level of infrastructural investment. This facilitates higher-intensity economic exchange both within and among these hegemonic entities. This economic exchange occurs through world system logistical interlinkages (Gills and Frank chapter 3 above). Thus, such periods of simultaneously expanding hegemonies seem to be generally characterized by economic expansion in the world economy as a whole. In contrast, hegemonic stability theory (Keohane 1980) argues that one stabilizer, one hegemon, provides a framework within which the rules of the international economy are enforced and that this situation facilitates economic order and expansion. However, Keohane also argues that once an international regime is established, cooperation among the principal powers in the world may continue (Keohane 1984). Thus Keohane, perhaps without realizing it, moves closer to a conception of interlinking hegemonies as the solution to the problems he confronted in the single-hegemon-succession model.

In the down phase, we find a period of simultaneously disintegrating hegemonies. In this period there is usually a general decline in infrastructural investment, and disruption and decline in the intensity of economic exchange. Logistical interlinkages suffer from disruption, decline, or under-utilization. The period is characterized by economic and political contraction in many regions, and decline (or reduced economic growth) over the world system as a whole. In this period, there is usually also a series of social and political conflicts and wars related to this contraction and hegemonic disintegration. Hegemonic states become increasingly dysfunctional. Nonetheless, some hegemonic powers do develop in an otherwise generalized down phase. The cases we will identify in our historical review below lead us to suspect two things about these hegemonic powers. First, it might be argued that the ascendance of these hegemon(s) is due not only, or perhapeven not smuch, to their own "internal" strength, as it is to the absolute and relative weakness of their neighbors and rivals. For instance, American postwar hegemony was built on the exhaustion of its rivals in the Second World War. This weakness may in mm be due in part to the inauspicious time for capital accumulation in that down phase. Secondly, the hegemonic power does not last very long, possibly also because of the generalized obstacles to capital accumulation during the down phase.

The world-historical rhythm, the world system cycle, is an alternation between these two phases. Moreover, the two phases may be causally linked, in such a way that the "up" phase conditions the eventual onset of the "down" phase, and in turn the "down" phase conditions the emergence of the following "up" phase. If that is the case, the world economy/ system never "collapses" or "falls." Rather, it alternates cyclically between periods of relatively high (hegemonic) integration and concomitant economic prosperity, and periods of relatively less integrated hegemonies and concomitant economic retrogression or contraction.

Of course, we should not expect all the world (system) to have been going up and down at the same time. Indeed, it is precisely because some enterprises, regions, and states get out of phase that the transformation and development of and in the system can take place. In the modern period, and still today, some - indeed, often the - most privileged region and/or hegemonic power was/is unable to take full advantage of an expansionary A phase. Concomitantly, a peripheral or, more often, semiperipheral region is able to grow in a B phase of contraction or slow-down, that constrains the (previously) more central ones at whose expense the new one "develops." So it has been historically in the world system in medieval, classical, and ancient times. Therefore, we try below to identify such long A phases of expansion and B phases of contraction and their related hegemonic transitions in an exploratory and tentative way. Accordingly, also, for the time being a number of question marks must remain, especially with regard to the exact timing of the periods.


Our entire analysis of the world system, and of hegemonic transitions within it, is derived from the competitive process of capital accumulation through markets, power, and a combination of both. However, the very existence of large-scale markets and capital accumulation before 1500, or even before 1800, is widely disputed. Nonetheless, other scholars have also claimed to demonstrate the existence of markets and capital accumulation in the ancient economy. The assertions of Karl Polanyi, Moses Finley, I.M. Diakanoff, and others regarding the nonexistence of markets and capital accumulation in the ancient economy are well known. However, Gordon Childe and other scholars in his tradition, as well as an increasing number of archaeologists like Robert Adams, have recently provided ever more empirical evidence and analytic arguments to demonstrate that market production, distribution, and accumulation are age-old.

Philip Kohl (1989) and also Morris Silver (1985) have critically re-examined the theses of Polanyi et a/., and found them to be inaccurate. Silver systematically scrutinizes key assertions by leading scholars like Polanyi. The latter contends that as late as the seventh century, no sign of market development was forthcoming in Greece. For at least a thousand years before that time, the continental empires of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt and the seafarers of Ugarit and Crete carried on large scale trade without... the market as the regulator of supply and demand. (1981: xli, 146)

Silver argues instead that in the case of Assyrian trading stations in Anatolia, for instance, "the evidence on price formation ... is fully consistent with the operation of market forces of the usual kind" (1985: 74). Likewise, Silver refutes both Polanyi (1981) and S.C. Humphreys (1978: 56) in regard to their view of the grain trade in the ancient economy (Mesopotamia for Polanyi, Rome for Humphreys) as primarily a function of the collection of taxes, tribute, and state redistribution. Silver assembles evidence from the primary sources that indicates the widespread existence of private warehouses and merchant middlemen in the ancient grain trade, including even in "redistributional" Egypt (1985: 80-4). Likewise, Silver finds evidence, following Piotr Steinkeller, for third-millennium concern loans made by private persons (1985: 84).

Diakanoff argues that "Commodity circulation did exist... but commodity production as such did not - i.e. there was no system having as its object the creation of profit by the production of commodities specifically for the market. Hence no accumulation of capital took place" (1974: 523). Silver bluntly responds that "The evidence points in the opposite direction" (1985: 107) and cites considerable evidence for the existence of production for export particularly in the archaic metals trade. Most importantly, he marshals evidence for widespread investment in capital goods in the ancient economy, motivated by market opportunities.

Evidence is abundant of the accumulation of human and material capital, including circulating capital not directly involved in the production process - warehouses, specialized pack animals, navigational channels, and large, purpose-built cargo vessels - and fixed capital -tools of artisans and agriculturalists, machines for lifting water, irrigation channels, metallurgical facilities, industrial installations for wine, oil, cloth, and ceramics, terracing and other forms of land improvement and reclamation, specialized animal stock, and significant investments in tree and vine stock. (1985: 163)

Silver concludes his critique of Polanyi and others as follows: The relatively high costs of communicating, contracting, and transporting did not prevent the emergence in Near Eastern antiquity of recognizable markets for goods and factors of production.... The direct evidence for trade, occupational specialization, supply-demand-determined prices, investment in material and human capital, and other "modem" phenomena is uneven with respect to time and place but is, nevertheless, abundant. The availability of a large labour force for seasonal work in agriculture and irrigation canal repair testifies to significant economic differentiation and division of labour. Indirect evidence of the importance of trade is also provided by major transformations in the economies of Sumer, Pharaonic Egypt, and southern Babylonia to take advantage of new commercial opportunities. (1985:165)

Similarly, Philip Kohl argues that "Farber's detailed study of prices during the Old Babylonian period shows a consistent pattern for the long-term fluctuations of the relative prices of basic commodities such as barley, oil, land, and slaves, revealing a sharp rise in prices and wages during the reign of Abieshuh (early seventeenth century b.c.)" (1989: 226). Commenting on Kohl, Joan Oates also observes that Recent works have increasingly emphasized the inadequacy of such views [as those of Polanyi] for interpreting the growing data for longdistance trade in the early historic periods in the Near East. Indeed, cuneiform studies now confirm the presence of a profit motive already in the mid-3rd-millennium-B.C. (pre-Sargonid) documents, while textual evidence from the immediately succeeding Sargonid period clearly supports the view that by this time there was a true commodity market. Recent analyses also recognize the importance of entrepreneurial activity together with the interdependence of trade and production. Thus the main theses of Kohl's article are not new, but, his intelligent and perceptive contribution [on which we will rely below] is much to be welcomed. (1978: 408)


Thus, there is ample ground to enquire into the process of capital accumulation in ancient times. The same goes for the possible cycles of accumulation and of hegemonyand their interr. The question arises to what period of history our approach is applicable. To answer that question, we rely on what Frank calls John K. Fairbank's second rule, which helps avoid arbitrary and conventionally mistaken beginnings: "The rule seems to be, if you want to study the mid-period ..., begin at the end of it and let the problems lead you back. Never try to begin at the beginning. Historical research progresses backward, not forward" (1990a: 162-4). Only time and diligent effort will tell how far back this historical research can progress. However, history itself did develop forward in time; and so should our exposition of it. If only for the sake of convenience, then, we will begin our historical account in the third millennium bc. However, this historical review can be no more than an exploratory and suggestive preliminary effort by nonspecialists. No doubt, specialists in various periods and regions will be able to find fault with some of our datings, inclusions, and exclusions. We hope they will - and thereby also help reformulate some of our questions or even our putative "certainties."


Elsewhere, we have provisionally traced the origins of the world system back to the interlinking hegemonies in the confluence of Mesopotamia and Egypt in the third millennium bc. These have traditionally been regarded as self-contained systems, whose development was only internally determined. Yet, during a short time around 3000 bc, apparently sophisticated, complex systems ... appeared across an area stretching from the Nile and Aegean in the west to central Asia in the east. It is not impossible that these regional developments may represent a loosely integrated and related series of changes ... that may in part be attributable to an interplay between local and external forces. In this regard, one possible effect of their outcome may have been a "primitive accumulation of capital" and its role as a force for such change. Such conclusion would include a measure of "market forces" in these periods. Between the late fourth and third millennia, ... faint, highly buffered "market mechanisms" may have operated for different periods of time and in different regions along these networks. (Marfoe 1987: 25, 30, 34)

Indeed, we could argue that the later states system of pre-Sargonid Mesopotamia was in fact also a framework of interlinking hegemonies, which included such important locally hegemonic cities as Mari, Ebia, Elam, Lagash, Ur, Nippur, Kish, Uruk, and Akkad. It was out of the context of the hegemony-rivalry process among these interlinking hegemonies that the Akkadian empire emerged. In Sumer, agricultural yields declined over a long period from 2400 to 1700 bc; and (consequently?) population also decreased after 1900 bc. Thm, the neighboring Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley declined, (ft virtual extinction, by 1500 BC after having maintained trade and ****** during its maturity with ***** Mesopotamia. On the Aw Mfeh Egypt suffered a "time of trouth taw floods, starvation, political fragmentation, and foreign incursions from 2250 to 1950 bc. We do not, and may never, know just how connected these events were. However, Philip Kohl suggests that "if one refuses to despair, the only way to proceed is first to comprehend the whole area that was engaged in some form of regular interregional exchange during the Bronze Age" (1989: 232), which included southern Central Asia, the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley, the Persian and Anatolian plateaus, Mesopotamia between them, and Egypt. Among these, "profit-motivated trade extended far beyond the political borders of any state and connected ... [all of these] into a single world system" (1989: 227):

Foreign trade in the mid-third millennium was an exceedingly complex process, involving the movement of finished luxury commodities, raw materials, and staple products, and was probably conducted both by state agents and by private entrepreneurs.... It does show that developments in southwestern Asia were not limited to the alluvial plains and that widely separated communities were linked by complex, well-defined exchange networks. (Kohl 1978: 466)

A AND B PHASES, 3000-2000 BC?

However, "the period of maximum foreign trade in finished products and raw materials prior to the first attempts at direct political control did not last long" (Kohl 1978: 473). Kohl cites Oppenheim to stress that for Mesopotamian Sumer "the frequency and intensity of contact had reached a peak early in the third millennium b.c." (465-6) After that, "International" relations changed over the greater Middle East during the first half of the third millennium with the collapse of the proto-Elamite "hegemony" in southern and Central Iran ... according to archaeological evidence from Central Asia, Baluchistan, southeastern Iran and the Indus Valley ... across the Iranian plateau, in the Gulf area (particularly the Oman peninsula), Mesopotamia, the Anatolian plateau and the Caucasus.... But it is unclear what happened to foreign relations in the later third and early second millennia with the collapse of Akkadian rule and the subsequent rise of and demise of the highly centralized Ur III dynasty. Dales (1976) explained the collapse of proto-urban settlements throughout the Indo-Iranian borderlands (during the so-called urban phase) as due to the cessation of long-distance overland trade and development of direct maritime trade between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. His theory only represents an unproven hypothesis but deserves serious consideration. (Kohl 1984: 242)

The competition for control over resources was inherent in the organization of trade. Thus conflict is generated around the attempt by each power to subordinate rivals and thereby establish their own hegemony (Childe 1942:102; Gills and Frank chapter 3 above) from the earliest period in the world system. The organization of trade and the effects of hegemonic conflict to that end can in itself represent a "contradiction" and an obstacle to further economic expansion. Too much conflict can be mutually exhaustive and economically ruinous. Too much domination by one hegemon may bring an increase in trade, but the benefits of the trade may be very disproportionate to the members of the system. That is, the hegemon may reign parasitically while other areas suffer deprivation. Childe recognizes the organization of accumulation as a contradiction.

Thus, in Childe's theory, "If the economy of the Early Bronze Age cities could not expand internally owing to the over-concentration of purchasing power ... the urban economy must - and did - expand externally" (1942: 139). Childe explains the development of center-periphery relations through the need for the center to induce the periphery to render up a surplus. The task of the center, in trade relations, was to "persuade their possessors to exchange the needed raw materials for manufactures" (1942: 140). According to Childe this trade was from the beginning a political trade between elites in the center and elites in the periphery.

Childe provides a fascinating economic explanation for the creation of the first world system imperium under Sargon of Akkad. First, he points out the underlying economic rationale of all Sargon's key conquests, e.g. "reaching the Cedar Forest (Lebanon)," and the "mountain of Silver" (Taurus), and causing the ships of Meluk, Magan (Oman, source of copper) and Dilmun (Bahrein?) "to anchor at the quay in front of Agade." Sargon's son continued the project of economic imperialism by taking possession of "as far as the Silver mines and from the Mountains of the Lower Sea he carried off their stones" (1942: 142-3). His grandson Naram Sin broke through to the Mediterranean in Syria by destroying the power of Ebla. Childe argues that his seizure of vast booty and employing it to adorn the capital and pay the armies constituted "the forcible distribution of the wealth hoarded in conquered treasuries" which thus "spread purchasing power in Mesopotamia. Production was thereby stimulated. . . . War captives swelled the supply of service .... Merchants could profits.... The middle class profited from imperialism, Money economy spread" (1942: 143).

Such economic imperialism was possible for the center by virtue of its superior metal weaponry, division of labor, political organization, and the organization of trade. It placed a constant systemic pressure on the hinterlands and the periphery to maintain at least a defense capability in military terms, and at the maximum to emulate the center in economic and political organization, and perhaps even innovate in order to surpass the center.

Thus the territorial space of the world system expanded. As Childe formulates it: As a result of one activity or another on the part of the original nuclei, new cities, new centres of civilization arose around the original foci and beyond them barbarians abandoned neolithic self-sufficiency ... And of course each Bronze Age city or township became itself a new centre of demand irradiating, if only by reflected light, an ever-widening hinterland. (1942: 144)

The world economy then already encompassed barbarian Europe, as well as West Asia, Central Asia, and even India and perhaps China. Expansion in this period may be attested to by the increase in the number of cities. However, this period of simultaneous consolidation culminated in Hittite-Egyptian rivalry over Syria and the Levant, which was at that time the key node of the logistical interlinkages in the world system.

The recurrent waves of invasion out of Inner Asia into the belt of civilizations around its perimeter may provide us with a clue as to possible cycles in early world system history, which extend back even into the archaic period. Childe argues that soon after 2300 bc, the hegemony of Akkad and the great state structures of Egypt and Indus and the economic systems they dominated "disintegrated." The era of prosperity was followed by "dark ages" during which Gutian invaders ruled in Mesopotamia. Childe says this was a period in which "imperial monopolies" were overthrown and "hoarded wealth collected in treasures was brutally restored to circulation, or simply annihilated, great households were broken up" (1942: 151). In Egypt too, the collapse of central state power of the Old Kingdom gave way to decentralized power and concomitant economic chaos and contraction. But these did not constitute total collapse, and merchant classes and trade recovered, as eventually did the states. The city of Ur established a wide hegemony and the "security for foreign trade" to allow economic recovery and expansion. However, this imperial recovery was eclipsed also in a period marked by a wave of Invasion from the hinterland. The Amorites displaced the Sumerian ruling classes. A second "dark age," that is, a period of economic dislocation and contraction, took hold.

The phases in Egypt and Mesopotamia were not synchronized, and so just as Ur collapsed. Middle Kingdom Egypt recentralized and entered a period of economic expansion. Some two centuries later, Egypt again succumbed to disintegration and invasion by the Hyksos. The next recovery in Mesopotamia accompanied the Amorite hegemony of the city of Babylon, which was however in turn overturned by new invasions of Kassites, Hittites, and the Elamites, and a new period of economic contraction followed, accompanied by a multipolar system of interlinking hegemonies.

B PHASE, 1700-1500/1400 BC

In the period 1700-1500 or 1400 bc, the world system seems to have undergone a simultaneous crisis of the interlinking hegemonies then in existence. While the Hittites and Kassites conquered Anatolia and Mesopotamia, the Hurrians and Hyksos overran the Levant and Egypt, the Aryans inundated the Indus, where Harappan civilization was on its last legs. At the same time, the Shang charioteer aristocracy established itself in north China. This period of simultaneous disintegration of hegemonies was accompanied by inevitable economic disruptions. Silver notes the onset of the "dark age" (1600-1347 bc) and says that "During this era urban life and legal documents relating to private commercial activities decline steeply" (1985: 161). The dark age is also marked by the "disappearance.... of all vestiges of social reform - or experiments - of the Hammurabi era" after his death about 1750 bc (Oppenheim and Reiner 1977: 159).


The next period, and especially the fourteenth-thirteenth centuries bc, was another period of economic recovery. The dominant but interlinking hegemonies were the Hittite empire, based in Anatolia and dominant in northern Mesopotamia, and the empire of New Kingdom Egypt. The period was clearly marked by the prominence of interlinking hegemonies, including Babylon, Assyria, and Mitanni, all of which took a full part in the well-developed diplomatic discourse of the period. There was for a time something like a concert of powers among these interlinking hegemonies. The Mycenaean trade supplanted the Minoan in the east Mediterranean. The application of iron to the weapons industry facilitated a new period of hegemonic expansion.

B-PHASE CRISIS, 1200-1000 BC

The next world systemic crisis came with the wave of the "sea peoples" and other invaders during the especially important "dark age" in the twelfth and eleventh centuries bc. Both Egypt and the Hittites had employed mercenaries in their earlier wars, thus familiarizing hinterland warriors with both the wealth and the weapons of the center. Childe says, "So the Bronze Age in the Near East ended round about 1200 bc in a dark age.... Not in a single State alone but over a large pan of the civilized world history itself seems to be interrupted; the written sources dry up, the archaeological documents are poor and hard to date" (1942: 185). As Liverani observes, this scarcity of surviving documentation "is not fortuitous... [but] is itself an effect of the crisis (eclipse of scribal schools and the palace administrations)" (1987: 71).

At the same time, the Mycenaeans in Greece and the Levant were overrun by new waves of invasions, which included the Dorians, Aramae-ans, and Phoenicians. The Hittite empire disintegrated. The Kassite dynasty in Babylonia collapsed to Chaldeans and Aramaeans. After the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I (1124-1103 bc) began the "dark age of Mesopotamia." A century later, "between 1024 and 978 b.c. Babylon had seven kings divided between three dynasties in a 46 year period" (Roux 1966: 260). In Egypt, Libyan mercenaries and Nubians seized power. Even in distant China, the Shang gave way to the more barbarian Zhou. "Nevertheless the continuity of civilization [in/of the world system?] was not completely or universally interrupted" (Childe 1942: 185).

Even though Mario Liverani says of himself, "I belong to that group of scholars who consider ... internal factors ... to be pre-eminent," he nonetheless recognizes that "[in] the collapse of Near Eastern civilization at the end of the Bronze Age ... it is true that the crisis is rather extended and takes place at roughly the same time over a large area" and that in his particular area of study "at the apex of the crisis... a shock of external origin is certain for the Syrian coast" (1987: 69).

Kohl aptly summarizes: The original Bronze Age world systems did not simply collapse, but left a complex, web-like legacy of political, economic, and, in the broadest sense, cultural interconnections which, in turn, were acted upon and influenced later historical developments. (1989: 238)


By about 1000 bc the economic recovery of the region was under way again and there followed a period of considerable economic expansion and hegemonic consolidation. The Iron Age was spreading, and in its first 500 years of expansion, more was achieved than in the previous 1500 years of the Bronze Age, according to Childe (1942: 187). The world economy also achieved a new and higher level of integration. The world system expanded territorially on a new scale to encompass a vast hinterland in Eurasia with deeper penetration of the periphery than before. This was indeed the Eurasian oikumene.

A-PHASE E, 1000-800 BC

During this period of expansion beginning about 1000 bc, the Phoenician cities and their oligarchies of merchant-princes, who supplanted their Canaanite predecessors, benefitted considerably. They took control from the moribund Mycenaeaas and exercised at least commercial (core) hegemony over the markets of the Aegean, which permitted the Phoenicians to accumulate great wealth in the process. Industrial production, financial and trading power, were concentrated in Tyre, Sidon, and other Phoenician cities of the Syrian-Levantine coast, which were ruled by commercial interests.

During this same period after 1000 bc, politically the main beneficiary from the confusion and weakness of the previous system-wide crisis on the mainland was the emerging Assyrian empire. The Assyrians came to dominate northern Mesopotamia. Nonetheless, Assyrian power was under challenge from two rivals.

There was a shift in the centre of gravity of exporting countries. Assyria, which was a great consumer, had no iron mines; for a time, especially during the earlier half of the eighth century b.c., it was denied access to the mining centres of the southern coast of the Black Sea and Transcaucasus by the neighbouring kingdom of Urartu. Inevitably it turned its attention to Iran.... [which obtained this metal from regions inaccessible to Assyria]. (Ghurshman 1954: 88)

Thus, The first half of the first millennium b.c. was a turning point in human history. The centre of "world politics" or of the age shifted. .. [from alluvial valleys in the south] more to the north ... that the struggle for world power was centred ... [on] three principal actors in the drama: the Semitic Assyrians with their vast empire; Urartu, a powerful kingdom of Asiatic origin, tenacious opponents of the Assyrians ... and finally the Aryans, the Iranians who, after a long and arduous struggle, triumphed over their two adversaries and, with the spoils, founded the first World Empire [under the Achaemenid kings from the fifth century onwards]. (Ghurshman 1954: 75)

B PHASE, 800-550

The cities and states of northern India still developed with the spread of iron technology from the eighth century bc onward. However, elsewhere by the eighth century some economic expansion seems to have slowed down again, and by the mid-seventh Assyria was seriously overextended and in decline. The Assyrian empire collapsed in the late seventh century bc. The Massagetae drove the Scythians westward through Central Asia and these in turn pushed the Cimmerians and the Medes west- and south- ward at the expense of the Assyrians. This gave way to a period of rivalry among the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians. In China, the pretense of formal Zhou hegemony gave place to independent states which entered into a new phase of rivalry.

The expansion of Greek and Phoenician colonization during this period might be taken as an indicator of the economic pressure these areas were under. For instance, Carthage was founded c. 814 bc, after Tyre came under increasing pressure from Assyrian tribute demands. The economic decline of Tyre and other Phoenician cities of the core is a feature of this period. Likewise, Greek colonization was a feature of increasing competition and market saturation. Hesiod speaks of "potter competing with potter and carpenter with carpenter."

The interrelated integration of distant regions into a single world system was reaching a new stage again. "The idea of humanity as a single society, all of whose members owe one another common moral obligations, is an ideological counterpart of an international economy based on the interchange of commodities between all its parts, such as became effectively manifest in the second phase of the Iron Age," as Childe put it (1942: 212). Perhaps it was also this increased new economic and ideological unity which stimulated the rise and spread of new universalist religions across Eurasia. This was the beginning of what Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age of interconnection and transformation.

A PHASE, 550-450 BC

Teggart (1939) already observed the temporal "correlation" in the rise and subsequent spread of several major new world religions in the sixth century bc. Among them were Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Pythagorianism, Buddhism, 'Confucianism, Taoism, Ionian philosophy, the Hebrew prophets Ezekiel and second Isaiah. McNeill (1964: 338) observed that the rise of these religious movements may have been a response to common needs, such as protection from exploitation by the propertied classes and the state elite. Indeed, the emergence of universalist religions may also be an indication of the high level of real economic interlinkage and perhaps the attainment of a new level or stage of economic integration, which had already characterized the previous period.

The sixth to fifth centuries bc were another period of economic and political expansion. The expansionary impulse seems to have appeared first in Greek cities such as Aegina, Corinth, and the Ionian cities, which introduced mass production of cheap but high-quality commodities for export using factory-production techniques. The wealth of Lydia, and its introduction of coinage, is another indication of this expansion. The Greek core was ascending as the Phoenician core was declining. This period witnessed the rise of the Achaemenid Persian empire, which stabilized much of West Asia by reimposing a more unified political order in that part of the world economy and system. The Achaemenids from Darius to Xerxes achieved at least a regional position of "super-accumulation" in the world system, on the basis of the imperial tribute system. The Persian empire exceeded even the Assyrian in the degree to which it succeeded in incorporating the most important economic zones of the world system.

There was at this time a shift in the center of gravity of the world economy of very great historical importance. The key area of logistical interlinkage in the world economy/system shifted from Syria and the Levant to Central Eurasia. Achaemenid control of Central Asian cities, such as the great city of Bactra, and the north-west India trading center of Taxila were very important elements in consolidating Persian super-accumulation. The Persian investment in infrastructure included the 1,677-mile Royal Road, which Darius built from Ephesus to Susa, and the road from Babylon to Onospana (near Kabul). Persian cities, like their Assyrian predecessors, were cosmopolitan; and its armies were multinational.

It was in this period that the great caravan cities of Syria - Aleppo, Hama, Horns (Emesa), and Damascus, in particular - truly came into their own, receiving goods from the Silk Road as well as spices and perfumes from Arabia's Incense Road and other luxuries brought by sea from India. Arameans ... were such active traders on these caravan cities that their speech became the commercial language. (Franck and Brownstone 1986: 65)

The successful accumulating classes of the sea-faring merchant cities also stimulated the many significant scientific advances and the invention of the alphabet and of coinage in this period. Coinage and the prevalence of manufactures in trade, conducted via cheap maritime transport, among these cities made the manufacture of mass-consumption commodities for the market more prevalent than elsewhere. Increasingly export manufacture occurred in factory workshops under the control of a capitalist utilizing slave labor, the cheapest form of labor vailable. The Persian imperial economy was more centralized and accumulation by the imperial state placed a heavy burden on the economy as a whole.

In Persia wealth was increasingly concentrated in the great estates of the nobility, and mass consumption through purchase in the market was limited. Personal debt increased in these economies and real wages fell until it reached crisis proportions in the fourth century bc. The Persian empire sought to compensate by making use of the wealthy cities and their money economy to the "West," as in the case of Sardis, the Ionian cities, and the Phoenician cities; but the Persians failed to complete the conque. In particular, the Persians recruited the Phoenfleets of Tyre and Sidon in their repeated attempts to subdue the western Greeks. It is often overlooked that the battle between Persia and Hellas was also a commercial war between Hellas and Phoenicia. For instance, when the Athenian fleet crushed the Phoenician-Persian fleet at Salamis in 480 bc, Athens immediately seized control of the Hellespont and reopened its vital corn trade in the Black Sea.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Persian hegemony was also interlinked with Athenian. At the same time, the Greek regions in the West had generated a surplus of warriors and the export of mercenaries to the East. In the West also, the prevalence of slave labor acted as a constraint on expansion of domestic demand but stimulated external expansion - toward the East. Geoffrey de Ste Croix explains the "natural foreign policy" of Athens as "driven by her unique situation, as an importer of corn on an altogether exceptional scale, towards a policy of 'naval imperialism', in order to secure her supply routes" from the East (1981: 292-3).

B PHASE, 450-350 BC

Athens profited most from the fifth-century empire. Nonetheless, it also declined when it failed to raise sufficient revenues to sustain its naval forces. Widespread rebellions broke out in the Athenian empire after 450 bc. Then, as de Ste Croix argues, Greek democracy, as represented by Athens, did not just "die out." It was "deliberately extinguished by the joint efforts of the Greek propertied classes, the Macedonians and the Romans" (1981: 293). Rostovtzeff (1941) argued that the economic decline of the cities from the late fifth century can be explained mainly as a result of a contraction of the foreign market for Greek exports due to the diffusion of industry in the periphery and thus to import substitution. However, de Ste Croix questions this explanation and instead maintains that the answer may lie in the class struggles of the period. That is, "not so much that Greece as a whole was poorer in the fourth century as that the wealthy class was now able to appropriate a greater share of the small available surplus than in the late fifth century" (t981: 294-5). He cites the growing export of Greek mercenaries in the fourth century as evidence of their inability to make a living at home. In this crisis in Greece, "the obvious solution, urged early in the fourth century by Gorgias and Lysias, and most presently by Isocrates ... was a grand Greek crusade against the Persian Empire, which would wrest from the barbarians enough land in "Asia to provide a comfortable livelihood for these men and any other Greeks who were in need" (1981: 295). The Persian-Greek wars were the result. They presaged a hegemonic transition in the eastern Mediterranean.

In a real sense the resolution of the crisis in the Hellenic economy and its class struggles spilled over into a momentum that led to the conquest of Persia, which was further testimony to their intimate interlinkage. The fourth century bc was awash with class conflict in the cities of the West, and with popular demands for the cancellation of debts and redistribution of land. These were symptomatic of an underlying economic contraction; or slow-down in expansion which precipitated increased class conflict. Rostovtzeff characterized the fourth century as one marked by increased proletarianization, landlessness, unemployment, and food shortage. It was marked by a contraction in the market for manufacturers and the ruin of "free" petty producers. Wealth was overconcentrated in the hands of the commercial and landed ruling classes. Livy notes a series of famines ins. Italy in 490, 477, 456, 453, 440, and 392 bc. The Celts invaded Italy and sacked Rome, while setting up the kingdom of Galatia in Asia Minor. They hegemonic disintegration of this period is in evidence n-om the Peloponnesian wars and the successful revolt of Egypt against Persia c. 400 bc **, the breakaway of the Indus from the Persian empire c. 380 bc.

We have been (mis)taught to view this period and its wars only through?) the eyes of the Greeks, who were subsequently but mistakenly denominated as "western". Bernal (1987) and Amin (1989) have recently anctjustly criticized this Eurocentric perspective. Historically, of course, Greece was a (semi-?)peripheral extension of West Asia, and during this period the Greeks were oriented eastward to the then hegemonic center in Persia." The "heroic" resistance of Athens and the Delian League to Persian conquest, with funds from the silver mines of Laurion and the treasure of the trading cities, was pan of a hegemonic transition and a preface to a subsequent hegemonic shift after the Greek cities were unified under Macedonian hegemony. The crisis made way for the new "orientalizing" of Hellas under the Macedonian monarchy, the defeat of democracy and the subsequent spread of Hellenistic ruling classes to all of the former domains of the Persian empire. Alexander destroyed the Phoenician economic rival of Tyre and imposed Greek domination over the area. Thus, the great Persian Imperium was overturned by the challenge from the (semi-)periphery in the "West." In this manner, the economic and social crisis of the Wests found a temporary resolution in the conquest of the East.

A PHASE, 350-250/200 BC

The next phase of expansion included the reconquest of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great. It was intended to be the prelude to an even larger hegemonic project, which would incorporate the Indian cities of the Indus as well as the Roman and Carthaginian spheres in the west Mediterranean. The logic of this plan was to extend the Persian imperium even further to incorporate the economic zones of the West under one all-encompassing super-regional hegemonic unity in the world system. Alexander's campaign in Central Eurasia, and in Bactria and north-west India in particular, indicates once again the importance of control over this area. Alexander tried to establish transregional super-hegemonic power as the basis for would-be transregional super-accumulation. Alexander's political project died with him in 323 bc, and his empire suffered subsequent political fragmentation into three separate political spheres of interest. Nonetheless, much of the infrastrucmral interlinkage was maintained and strengthened; and economic expansion appears to have continued. There were renewed hegemonic consolidations. In Hellenistic domains a mixture of the polis and oriental depotism was concocted to jtesolve class contradictions and facilitate economic expansion. Greek science was applied to increases in productivity as never before.

In China, the process of rivalry, accompanied by economic expansion and the introduction of new administrative and productive techniques, culminated in a hegemonic consolidation in the third century bc by the Qin dynasty. Moreover, trade contacts between China and India also increased during this period.

The late fourth and third centuries bc were a period of hegemonic consolidation also in northern India. The Mauryans began their rise in the fourth century bc. However, their vast empire consolidated hegemony in Jaorthem India and the Ganges basin in the third century bc, after the *** of Alexander. The Mauryans gained control of the Indus from Seleucus Nicator, gained control of the key trade city of Taxila, and extended their influence into Central Asia up to the borders of Bactria. The Mauryans constructed the 2,600-mile Great Trunk Road from the Mrategic city of Pataliputra on the Ganges to the far north-west, near the Nty of Taxila. The state maintained the infrastructure of roads, signposts, guardhouses, water wells, causeways, ferries, etc., and shelters were pro-traded for traders and other travelers.

B PHASE, 250/200-100/50 BC

However, the Mauryan empire had declined by the beginning of the second RaSntury. Then, control over western Central Eurasia passed from Mauryan and Seleucid hegemony to the independent Bactrian kingdom. Bactria stood |at the hub of the economic exchange that included Taxila, Antioch, and Alexandria. In eastern Central Asia and China and begiaround 200 bc, the struggles for territory and influence among theChinese, Xiongnu, pad Yuezhi would soon exert effects also into western Central Asia and prestward, as we will observe below. However, we should note that China I'under the Han dynasty experienced a period of hegemonic consolidation economic expansion in this period and is therefore not synchronized with the economic B phase in areas to its west.

In the Mediterranean region also, the second century bc was again marked by signs of crisis and contraction and slower expansion of the market. In Egypt, the second century was characterized by all the signs of economic decline, such as overtaxation, official corruption, increased debt, and unrest and brigandage. The Rosetta stone characterizes the period by: "pressure of taxes, rapid accumulation of arrears and concomitant confiscations, prisons full of criminals and debtors, public and private, many fugitives scattered all over the country and living by robbery, compulsion applied in every sphere of life" (Childe 1942: 254). In Greece and Italy free peasantry was declining in favor of capitalist landowners. Prices rose relative to wage increases. Class struggle in the Hellenistic hegemonies came into interaction with the power of Rome, an interlinked hegemony. Rome's own internal class struggles were resolved by recourse to imperialism and expansion of the market in barbarian western Europe. Slave revolts occurred widely in Attica, Macedonia, Delos, Sicily, Pergamon, and in Italy. The power of the Roman oligarchy proved great enough to quell unrest in Italy, override the land reform of the Gracchi, and interject itself into the political affairs of the declining Hellenistic states of the East. The logic of Roman political power moved inexorably toward another "orientalizing" solution in the defeat of the lower classes and the centralization of imperial and monarchic power. The widespread use of slave labor accelerated by Rome's imperial expansion placed a further obstacle to increase in productivity through scientific innovation of labor-saving technology.

It was at the end of, and out of, this B-phase crisis that Rome emerged as the predominant, but by no means the sole, hegemon in this part of the world system. Geoffrey de Ste Croix (1981: 328) argues that "sheer rapacity" for surplus extraction was a key motive for Roman expansionism. In his view, the purpose of Roman rule was to increase the rate of exploitation and to concentrate capital accumulation in the hands of the Roman oligarchy. The effect of Roman rule was not a great profit for the Roman state as such, but rather a tremendous profit for private Roman citizens acting on behalf of Rome. In the second and first centuries bc Rome parasitically exploited its new domains. The civil wars, financed with wealth accumulated, from the empire, culminated in a true centralized bureaucratic imperial state made possible by Julius Caesar and consolidated by Octavian.

A PHASE, 100/50 BC-150/200 AD

The late first century bc and the first and second centuries ad again were a period of major economic expansion, international trade and political relations, as well as interhegemonic rivalries. The Roman empire entered a period of internal (hegemonic) peace and economic prosperity and expansion. By the first century ad, the entire world system was politically organized into an unbroken belt of interlinking hegemonies, stretching from Rome in the Mediterranean basin, to Parthia in Mesopotamia and' Persia, the Kushan in Central Asia, and the Han in China. Only northern* India was not under a single hegemonic state, but Kushan commercial influence extended deep into the Gangetic plain. Indians expanded into "Farther India" in Southeast Asia.

Among the various explanations that have been proposed to account for the intensification of Indian trading activity in Southeast Asia at about the beginning of the Christian era, perhaps the most credible is that formulated by George Coedes (1964; 44-49), who attributes the reorientation of Indian commercial interests to "changing political conditions in the Mediterranean and Central Asia" which created a shortage of gold in India, which the Indians sought to meet by looking for gold in Southeast Asia. (Wheadey 1975: 232-3)

For this period and the Afro-Eurasian oikumene as a whole, Hodgson noted that mercantile trade was extended and industry fostered; for instance, both the import of silk from China and its working within the empire. Cities increased in wealth and importance; [after 226] the Sassanian monarchs were notable as founders of cities and protectors of trade. The mercantile development represented in part a response to the ever quickening pattern of trade throughout the Afro-Eurasian Oikoumene. Direct trade by sea and land between China and the Indo-Mediterranean regions opened up.... Trade elsewhere in the Southern Seas (the seas of the Indian Ocean and eastward) had likewise expanded, as had trade both north of the Mediterranean in Europe and south across the Sahara, The people from the Nile to the Oxus not only took full advantage of their crossroads. They helped develop new fields of trade. (1974, I: 142)

The Parthians built an empire in the first century bc that stretched from the Euphrates to the borders of Bactria, and briefly controlled Taxila in the early first century ad. They were later faced with the competition of the Tocharians (the Yuezhi), who may have set up the Kushan empire, which took control of Taxila in 60 ad.

It is still in dispute whether it was the above-mentioned Yuezhi them-I'selves or others whom they in turn pushed south-eastward who founded the Kushan empire. It is certain, however, that in the second and first centuries bc, the Central Asian Xiongnu had conflicts with their neighbors ** to the east and to the west. It is in dispute "who started" the conflict the south-east with the Chinese, (Suzuki [1968] traces the ups and ** between 200 bc and 200 ad of Xiongnu relations with the Chinese.) lese responded by building the Great Wall, but then taking control of e Tarim basin and the "silk road" through it well beyond that wall, and io by seeking an alliance against the Xiongnu with the latter's neighbors the west, the Yuezhi. Nonetheless, or perhaps in part therefore, begin ** about 177 bc under Meodun, the Xiongnu drove the Yuezhi still further westward as far as present-day Afghanistan. Grousset comments on this colossal impact of the first Hunnic thrust on the destinies of Asia. In driving the Yueh-chih from Kansu [in north-western China], the Hsiun-nu had started a sequence of repercussions which were felt as far away as Western Asia and India. Afghanistan was lost to Hellenism: the last vestiges of Alexander's conquest in these regions had been wiped out; Parthian Iran had been temporarily shaken and the tribes thrust back from Kansu had found an unlooked - for empire in Kabul and northwest India. The same process continues throughout our history which is our present study. The slightest impulse at one end of the steppe inevitably sets in motion a chain of quite unexpected consequences in all four comers of this immense zone of migrations. (1970: 32)

Just to the west of the Oxus, Kushan unification of Central Asia and north-west India between the first and third centuries ad also "facilitated commercial cultural and ideological transmission through a vast region, extending from East Asia to the borders of Europe" (Liu 1988: 2-3). "Through all India the merchant community prospered.... Not surprisingly, the religions supported by the merchants, Buddhism and Jainism, saw their heyday during these centuries" (Thapar 1966: 109).

The Kushan inherited and continued to utilize profitably the extensive infrastructure established under the prior period of Mauryan hegemony. This included the trunk road from Taxila to Pataliputra. The Kushan elite were particularly keen to administer matters relating to control of trade routes and commercial activity and trade. During the Kushan period, both Central Asia and northern India experienced urban prosperity, i.e. economic expansion. "Eurasian trade - with the world, and from Central Asia to China - was more vital to its treasury than tthose of previous Indian dynasties" (Liu 1988; 7). Liu points to a shift in the locus of accumulation in the region as a whole as a result of Kushan orientation to this Eurasian trade. The Kushan political center of the Mauryan hegemony on the middle Ganges "fell into relative oblivion during this period" (1988: 7). Liu claims that trade between the Mediterranean area and India occurred long before the Christian era and was mainly handled by Arabian intermediaries. Regular direct trade began at the end of the first century bc in the reign of Augustus. It was made profitable by learning to use monsoon winds in the Arabian Sea to establish regular maritime commerce between Alexandria and ports on the Indian coast such as Barbarican and Barygaza. Liu, citing evidence in the Periplus, maintains that Roman merchants acquired a regular supply of silk and furs from these ports. Furthermore, this fact suggests that the main path of the Silk Route during the first two centuries ad coursed through Central Asia to the Indus valley. Going directly to the sea coast along the Indus or detouring through Mathura, it connected with the Roman world by sea.... The discovery of the monsoon made the sea route the easiest way to avoid Persian competition. (1988: 19)

This indicates ongoing competition among routes in the context of a set of rival interlinking hegemonies. Indeed, "During Kushan rule conflicts between Rome and Parthia, especially under the reign of Trajan (98-117 ad), made the route through the Indus and seaports of the west coast essential for Roman trade to Central and East Asia" (Warmington 1928: 94-5). Well known are the Parthian efforts to control and derive monopoly profits from their intermediary position along the silk road(s) between China and Rome. Even though this trade was not in daily necessities, it "nevertheless sustained many caravan cities and seaports from the Mediterranean to East Asia (Liu 1988: 178). During these same first and second centuries ad, the expansion of international trade, diplomatic missions, and political relations also tied Funan and other parts of Indochina and Southeast Asia more closely to China on the one side and especially to India on the other (Coedes 1968).

Liu also emphasizes how shifts in trade routes affected the locus of accumulation. "The shift of trade routes caused the rise and fall of these cities as effectively as warfare or other political crises" (Liu 1988: 178). From the first century ad, direct Roman trade with India and Africa struck a heavy blow at the urban centers of Arabia, especially those of south Arabia and Yemen, which were dependent on the incense trade (Bowen and Albright 1958).

Thus, this period of interlinking hegemonies was characterized by constant rivalries among the competing hegemons and pretenders in Rome, Armenia, Parthia, Kushan, and farther east.

B-PHASE CRISIS, 150/200-500 AD

From the third through the fifth centuries ad, the previous period of expansion and consolidating hegemonies was followed by a major world systemic crisis on a Pan-Eurasian scale. During this world systemic crisis the Han and Roman, as well as the intermediary Kushan and Parthian hegemonic structures simultaneously disintegrated. Frederick Teggart (1939) examined international political economic linkages through Central Asia for the Roman period when war occurred on the routes in the Tarim Basis [in what is now China's western Xinjian region] disturbances broke out in Parthia and either in Armenia or on the border of Syria. Evidently then, war in the Tarim occasioned an interruption of traffic on the silk route, and this interruption aroused hostilities at points along the route as far west as the Euphrates. (1939:240)

Teggart correlated and compared the timing of wars and barbarian invasions in Rome and China and concluded that. Thus the effects of wars which arose out of interruptions of the great "silk route" through Persia are plainly visible in the internal history of Rome.... Seemingly there could be no better illustration of interdependence of nations than the consideration that a decision of the Chinese government should have been responsible for a financial panic in the capital of the Roman empire. (1939: x)

However, even Teggart seems to have considered wars and other political disturbances more as the cause of interruptions of trade, rather than the other way around. Yet, it may also be argued with equal or greater reason that many uprisings, wars, alliances, and other political developments were themselves stimulated if not caused by changing local, regional, or even system-wide economic conditions and interests.

Thus first the ** and then again the decline of Han China (and their Central Asian Xiongnu neighbors), Kushan India, Parthian Persia, and western imperial Rome occurred at very much the same time. The political-economic decline of these empires was also manifested in the notable simultaneous decline of Central Asian and maritime trade among them. The fourth and fifth centuries ad seem to have been a period of major Eurasian (system) wide economic and political decline, indeed. This apparently interrelated series of declines is another important instance of what we see as a major world system wide crisis. Therefore, we wish however briefly to examine some of its regional manifestations in greater detail.

The hegemonic disintegration of the Han preceded that of Rome, becoming acute by the late second century ad. The third and fourth centuries in China were a period of economic retrogression, with a significant decline in internal and external trade and demonetization of the economy. Many cities disappeared altogether and the monetary economy practically collapsed. The political center of gravity shifted from the former capital of Chang'an to Louyang, and the economic center of gravity from the Guan-zhong region to the Henan region, and thereafter to the Yangtse (Yangzi) Valley. Nevertheless, cities linked to the Eurasian trade continued to exist and prosper, such as the centers in the western Hexi area (the modem Gansu corridor) (Liu 1988: 42-3). Wealthy merchant houses existed in this period of general urban decline and the Northern Wei dynasty seems to have been particularly favorable toward merchant activity up until the early sixth century.

The Kushan empire in north India and Central Asia disintegrated, and I. India's political center of gravity shifted back to the middle-Ganges plain during the Gupta period (c. 300-500 ad). The Gupta empire in north India yose in the fourth century, and was destroyed by the White Huns in the *** century. During the Gupta period landed property gained value and land grants by the king increased in significance, while the urban economy in general showed clear signs of decline (Liu 1988: 21). Nonetheless, during the Gupta period some trade between India and China and between India and the West continued. The Ujjain region in the Gupta period prospered from international trade and Barygaza was still an active port (Liu 1988: 32-3). However, this trade was diverted, It seems reasonable to conclude that even when north India suffered a general urban decline in the Gupta period, certain cities along the trade route from Kashmir to the north Indian plain prospered political changes in the post-Kushan period disturbed the Eurasian commercial network from the Roman empire to China but did not destroy it. A major shift took place in the north-west, where the route through Kashmir connecting India to Central Asia gained importance. As the seaports in western India continued to flourish the new Kashmir route brought both western India and the Ganges plain closer to China. (Liu 1988: 35)

Liu maintains that from the third to the fourth centuries a series of political changes in Asia and Europe disturbed the trade network connecting China and the West through the west-north-western Indian routes (Liu 1988: 21, 35,178). These upheavals appeared across all of Eurasia: China was divided for three centuries after the disintegration of the Han empire (220 ad), excefor a brief unification of north China under the Qin (280-316 ad). The Kushan empire (whichcontrolled Kashmir, Bactria, Kabul, and northwest India) collapsed under the weight of White Hun deprivations in the fourth century. As a result, many urban centres in Central Asia declined or became depopulated during the fourth and fifth centuries. Major cities like Bactra and Taxila and many lesser ones experienced significant decline, "became desolate" and ended up "all in ruins" (Liu 1988: 32, 27). Bactria "might have temporarily lost its nodal function because of the pressure of Sassanians, and subsequent damage done by the Hephthalites or White Huns" (Liu 1988: 27). The Roman empire disintegrated and led to the establishment of the eastern Byzantine empire (395 ad).

It is noteworthy that the Gupta empire rose to power and privilege at the expense of regional predecessors during a period of generalized economic crisis, which had weakened its predecessors in the Indian region.

At about the same time, this was true too of the Sassanians, who replaced the Parthians in Persia. For in the third century also the Sassanian empire took control of the former domains of the Parthians and the Kushan in Persia and Central Asia. However, Sassanian power also was in ascendancy, as Roman and Han power declined. The Gupta perhaps less, and the Sassanians perhaps more, successfully managed to retain some power asj son of super-accumulating monopoly rent from their positions along the way while other economic and political powers had already waned or went under in the generalized world system economic and political crisis. However, neither Gupta nor Sassanian power lasted very long. Perhaps that was not only because they suffered from repeated batterings by the White Huns in the fourth-sixth centuries. Perhaps Gutpa and Sassanian power was also a sort of flash in the pan, precisely because they were only able to take advantage of their rivals' economic and political decline in a period of economic downswing; which would also limit and ultimately destroy their own capabilities. (An apparently similar major such instance may have been the rise of the Assyrians at the beginning of the first millennium bc. Another would be the rapid rise and decline of theMongols in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century world-economic downturn so which we will turn in due course. Probably, there were other similar instances in between, as well as before and after this period, which merit' greater attention.)

Returning to the third and fourth centuries, they were a period of. significant economic contraction in the Roman empire. This included contraction in the market and currency devaluation (even demonetization) and reversal of urbanization, especially in the western provinces of the empire. Childe argues that by ad 150 the "frontiers of the civilised world" had been reached and that the external market could expand no more. Thus, "Unable to expand the whole system began to contract... by 250 ad all semblance of prosperity vanished" (1942: 273, 275). The hegemonic disintegration forces of the third century were severe, but the empire was| formally kept together. Huge quantities of bullion flowed to the east to make up for Rome's chronic structural deficit on its trade in luxury goods with Asia, thus increasing the pressure on the Roman treasury to debase the coinage. The aristocratic ruling class was discouraged by its own ideology from investing in industry, and preferred for reasons of status to invest: in land and commerce. The competition of slave labor with free labor' depressed wages in the latter and thus depressed the expansion of the' market.

Geoffrey de Ste Croix explains the long decline of the Roman economy as the result of the Roman political system and its class structure, which facilitated a most intense and ultimately destructive economic exploitation of the great mass of the people, whether slave or free, and it made radical reform impossible. The result was that the propertied class, the men of real wealth, who had deliberately created this system for their own benefit, drained the life-blood from their world and thus destroyed Graeco-Roman civilization over a large part of the empire. (1981: 502)

Economic collapse, particularly in the form of fiscal crisis, came first in Britain, Gaul, Spain, and north Africa in the fifth century, and in much |of Italy, the Balkans, Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia in the sixth and Kscventh centuries. However, the eastern or Byzantine part of the Roman Jempire never suffered such a severe collapse as its western European part. I Western Europe suffered perhaps more than any other region in the World system from the economic retrogression effected by this world Ikystemic crisis. Moreover, many centuries passed before western Europe |recovered, and then only partially. A unique amalgamation of late Roman land Germanic institutions took. form in the west-European provinces of ** Roman empire. The institutions of feudalism were in place by the time of the death of Charlemagne in 814, and western Europe declined into the "Dark Ages." However, we agree with the evidence and arguments of cholars like Dopsch (1923/4) and Lombard (1975) to the effect that even in Europe, trade and markets never declined as much as the more dominant gttadition of Max Weber and Henri Pirenne had taught us. Nonetheless, iiyestem Europe became an economic backwater in the world system, with pbncomitantly backward and primitive political institutions. Thus, it would |be largely bypassed by the next world economic upturn, which began in |the sixth century. When it finally did begin to recover, it was as pan of lit process of reintegration into the world economy whose center was then, ilocated in the East.


A PHASE, 500-750/800 AD

A new period of nearly world system wide economic expansion began in the sixth century. The Sassanid empire regained strength and acquired the key Syrian entrepot of Antioch. Sassanid campaigns of expansion in the *** seventh century brought its power into Anatolia, the Levant, and pEgypt. Byzantium also expanded during the sixth century, when Belisarius? I jmdenook successful reconquests in the West. Both empires seriously I overextended and then exhausted each other in a final debilitating war in the seventh century. In India, Sri Harsha rebuilt a north-Indian hegemony from the city of Kanauj in the seventh century. In China, reunification occurred under the Sui dynasty in the later pan of the sixth century.

In summary, most of Eurasia, excepting western Europe, but also parts of Africa, were again interlinked and synchronized, in particular through Central Asia. This synchronization thus linked up across all Afro-Eurasia from West to East, and vice versa. Chinese unification brought acceleration of the economic-expansion phase and Chinese extension of hegemonic power into Central Asia under the Tang dynasty, which succeeded the Sui. Simultaneously, Tang China also increased its relations with Indochinese Champa. The new Arab/Muslim state of Arabia and Palestine exploited the exhaustion of the Persian Sassanid empire in the seventh century and quickly conquered the former Persian domains. Egypt and Alexandria were also taken by the Arabs in 643. Central Asia was added to the hegemony in mid-century. The unification of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Central Asia under one hegemonic structure gave the Ummayyad and its successor the Abbassid dynasty the position of super-accumulator in the world system. The Abbassid and Tang empires clashed head on in Central Asia in the (mid-eighth century. The battle of Talas in 751 confirmed Abbassid super-hegemony and accelerated Tang decline.

Thus, the second half of the sixth and the seventh centuries witnessed commercial and political expansion in various regioJis. From the second half of the sixth century ad, much of Central Asia was conquered and reorganized by the Turks. They expanded westward to dominate the entire area from Manchuria to the Aral Sea. The role of the Turks in trans-Central-Asian trade and its importance to them has been nby several authors, among them Christopher Beckwith (1987) and Luc Kwanten (1979), who write:

Whenthe Turks annexed most of the Central Asian city-states -great centers for the east-west and north-south caravan trade - in the second half of the sixth century, they also removed the political obstacles to relatively high-volume transcontinental trade.... The Turks' great interest in commerce did not mean that they dominated it; they were its patrons. Most of the international trade during the Early Middle Ages was in the hands of others.... Trade was almost totally monopolized by two or three great trading peoples: the Jews, the Norsemen, and the Sogdians. The profits from this trade in silk, spices, perfumes, war material, horses, and other products stimulated not only imperialism, but also local industry and local trade. (Beckwith 1987: 178-80) Trade played an important role in the Turkic empire. Through their victory over the Yuanyuan, the Turks had gained control over Central Asian trade routes, and hence over the lucrative silk trade between China and Byzantium. The Turks had no intention of either abandoning the trade or sharing it with other intermediaries. Inevitably, this led to war between the Turks and the Sassanian empire [in Persia who had been the intermediaries]. (Kwanten 1979: 39)

However, the Turkish empire(s) did not last long. In the seventh and eighth centuries they gave way to the Tang dynasty expanding westward from China, the Tibetan empire expanding northward, the Muslims overunning Iraq and Persia and expanding eastward, the Byzantines still holding their own,'and the Prankish empire rising in western Europe. The Islamic caliphate and the "world" economy around it, so masterfully Imalyzed by among others Hodgson (1974) and Lombard (1975), probably became the driving force, with its driver's seat in Baghdad. It was foundedlj rJn762 and by the year 800 already had a population of 2 million.

Marshall Hodgson (1974) has examined the Abbassid high caliphate from 692 to 945 and especially its period of "flowering" and commercial expansion until 813. To introduce his examination'of the Muslim caliphate, however, Hodgson observed:

This period was one of great prosperity. It is not clear how far this was the case throughout the Afro-Eurasian Oikoumene, but at least in China at that time what may be called a "commercial revolution" was taking place. Under the strong government of the Tang dynasty ... commerce became much more extensive and more highly organized.... The Chinese economic activity was directly reflected in the trade in the Southern Seas (the Indian Ocean and seas eastward), where Chinese ports became an important terminus for Muslim vessels.... It can be surmised that the commercial life of the lands of Muslim rule was given a positive impetus by the great activity in China, especially considering the important connections with China both via the Southern Seas and overland through central Eurasia. In any case, commerce also enjoyed the great benefit of an extended peace which the caliphate was able to ensure within its domains. (1974,1: 234-5)

However, it may be possible to "clarify" further Hodgson's doubts about the extent of prosperity throughout the Afro-Eurasian oikumene during this period. From the mid-seventh century came the rise and expansion of Taika and Nara Japan, Silla Korea, and Tang China in the East. China "expanded southward and increased trade relations with Champa in Indochina. The Silendras established themselves at key trading entrepots at the "rips of Malaya, Sumatra, and Java, astride the direct and indirect trade "routes between China, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf via India. At " the same time, the Chinese and the Turks also expanded westward, the Tibetans northward, the Muslims eastward, the Scandinavians southward, and the Byzantines consolidated and held their own as best they could Meanwhile, Indian, Persian, and Axum power in east Africa declined and or was replaced by these expansions and rivalries. Trade through-norti Africa began to flourish, both along its East-West axis and southward; across the Sahara to the sources of gold in west Africa. West Europeans: languished for another century until Charlemagne was crowned in 800.

Yet even then its trade with the eastern Mediterranean languished. Egypt] prospered under the Tulunins in the second half of the ninth century. K it unlikely that these far-flung developments occurred simultaneously only by historical accident? It seems much more likely that they were sequence of repercussions in a chain of quite unexpected consequences in all four comers of this immense zone" going through Central Asia, tdi recall the terminology of Grousset (1970: 32).

B phase, 750/800-1000/1050 ad?

This chain of repercussions also includes what appears to have been a set of "regional" but very widespread political crises in the mid-eighth century. Beckwith notes:

The eighth century saw the development of serious crises, and major economic, political and cultural changes, in every important Eurasian state. Typologically speaking, these changes followed more or less the same pattern, due no doubt to their common origin in international, specifically economic change, of a fundamental nature. ... It is a curious fact that, unlike the preceding and following centuries, the i middle of the eighth century - specifically the period 742 to 755 -saw fundamental changes, usually signalled by successful, political revolts, in every Eurasian empire. Most famous among them are the Carolingian, Abbasid, Uighur Turkic, and anti-Tang rebellions, each of which is rightly considered to have been a major watershed in the respective national histories. Significantly, all seem to have been intimately connected with Central Eurasia. (Beckwith 1987: 192)

A major event in the interhegemonic history of this period and a turning point in the history of Central Asia and of the world was the reversal of Tang Chinese expansion in Asia at the battle at the Talas river in 751. The Arab Muslims and the Turks combined forces and defeated the Tang General Gao Xianji (lent to the Chinese by the then flowering Silla kingdom in Korea). He had previously led the Chinese expansion into Central Asia during two victorious campaigns across the Pamirs and into Kushan. The same year, the new Khitai confederacy defeated the Chinese in their north-east; and a Chinese expedition to the south-west into Yunnan failed. Four years later, in 755, began the major eight-year-long internal rebellion Tang rule led by Aniushan. The rebellion was put down with Jighur help from Central Asia. Nonetheless, Tang power and the regime it the Tang dynasty never really recovered from this external defeat at Talas river in 751 and the internal Aniushan rebellion from 755 to 763. ||The weakened Tang dynasty hung on until 907, after another major rebellion from 874 to 883. China lost all its western territories again; and the turks and *** Central Asia - eventually right up to the Great Wall of China - became Muslim.

*** century later, m the course of the four years betwen 838 and 842, as leckwith (i987) notes, in the West the trade route between the Volga and Ke Baltic was closed in 838 (not to reopen for another generation), and 840 tne Frankish empire broke up. In the East, the Uighur empire fell rthe Kirghiz in 840, the Tibetan empire was split up in 842, and in the ** year began the open persecution of Buddhism and then of other ireign religions in China. At the same time (after the Arab-Byzantine War of 837-42 and Turkish expansion), the last caliph in Baghdad began the persecution of heretics under Islamic rule. Again, it seems unlikely that Ithese political and cultural events were entirely responses to "internal" pressures unrelated to each other. More likely, they were related to each other and to economic problems or even another widespread economic crisis, common to them all and/or transmitted through Central Asia. Of course, we will never find out, unless we look for such interrelations. Beckwith observes that the great crises of the eighth century were followed by absolutely astonishing eand cultural growth across Eurasia, from Japan to England. The enormous expansion in trade brought about an in the growth of cities and market towns everywhere. Besides the huge metropolises of Baghdad, Constantinople, and Ch'ang-an, the old [Central Asian] centers of Samarkand and Khwarazam, etc., there were fast growing cities where once there were none: Rasa, Karabalgasum, Rostov, Quentovic, and many others. The internationalism of the age burst into full bloom, as commerce and culture, hand-in-hand, flourished as never before, (1987: 92-4)

However, the ninth and tenth centuries may still have been a period of economic slowdown. They also witnessed important setbacks to some regional powers and (therefore?) greater opportunities for others to establish themselves. Tang China languished and then declined, especially in its relations with Central Asia. The Tang decline opened spaces for the temporary growth of some regional powers, such as the Uighurs and then the Kirghiz. At the other end of Central Eurasia in the tenth century, Egypt experienced economic difficulties and declining real wages (Ashtor 1976: 153-4). Elsewhere, "the boom in the Near Eastern economies came suddenly to an end and the unity of the Moslem empire was shattered" (115). Ashtor lays part of the blame on a 14-year revolt by slaves, many of them Blacks, in southern Mesopotamia, beginning in 869. The growth and power of Baghdad failed to continue and its caliphate began its "disintegration," as Ashtor entitles his chapter on the same. Trade with India and China was diminished (147). Lombard dates the "onset of the decline of Baghdad from the end of the tenth century; it continued in the eleventh century under the Seljuk Turks and was completed when the town was captured by [the Mongol] Hulagu in 1258" (1975: 126). "It is evident that the decline of Baghdad [as well as Basra] and of the centrality of the Gulf route [to the Orient] is explainable only in pan by purely local and exclusively economic factors. It can be fully understood only within the context of changes in the geopolitical system of the larger region, and indeed, of the world system" (Abu-Lughod 1989: 192). We now turn to these in the next period of expansion.

A phase 1000/1050-1250/1300 ad

The eleventh and twelfth centuries and perhaps more precisely the years 1050 to 1250 were another period of widespread economic growth. For instance, Wallerstein notes: The feudal system in western Europe seems quite clearly to have operated by a pattern of cycles of expansion and contraction of two lengths: circa 50 years and circa 200-300 years... The patterns of the expansions and contractions are clearly laid out and widely accepted among those writing about the late Middle Ages and early modern times in Europe.... It is the long swing that was crucial. Thus 1050-1250+ was a time of the expansion of Europe (the Crusades, the colonizations).... The "crisis" or great contractions of 1250-1450+ included the Black Plague. (1989b: 33, 34)

Of course, Wallerstein and others limit their reference to "feudal" Europe. The legitimacy of this limitation has been debated by Wallerstein (chapter 10 below) and Frank (chapter 6 below). There is ample evidence to support the present authors' belief that both the cycle and the period of expansion within it were world system wide. Indeed, that was a major reason for the commercial ventures of the Crusades Wallerstein mentions, as well as for the prosperity, but also the rivalry, of Venice, Genoa, and the other south-European city states, which, increasingly, turned eastward to connect with the growing and profitable trans-Asian trade. However, especially in the hands of the Genovese and the Catalans, trade also prospered in the western Mediterranean and increasingly extended out into the Atlantic in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. After Gibraltar, it turned both northward toward north-west Europe and southward to the newly discovered Canary Islands and further to west Africa. Simultaneously, Christians pushed their reconquista. of the Muslim domains in Spain ever southward. Both would eventually culminate in 1492 with the simultaneous expulsion of the "Moors" and Jews from Spain and the "discovery" of America by a Genovese navigator and merchant-shipper, who had been trained in Atlantic voyages to the Canaries. He raised private finance capital in Barcelona and elsewhere but worked in the service of the Spanish queen, for whom he sought a better and cheaper way to the riches of the Orient. Several other regions around the world also prospered during this period; their simultaneous and interrelated growth and decline have been analyzed by Janet Abu-Lughod (1989).

Foremost among the regions of expansion was China. During this period the Song consolidated their empire in China, amid spectacular population growth and economic expansion. The Chinese population grew to 150 million, the city of Hangzhou to 6 million, and Kaifeng to 4 million (while by comparison Venice, Europe's biggest and most trade-dependent city, reached 160,000). Technological revolution, increased agricultural productivity, large-scale industrial production, construction of vast networks of overland transportation and navigable inland waterways, widespread commercialization, high finance, sumptuary consumption, and expansive domestic and foreign trade all characterized the Song period. Nonetheless, the Sung never regained the hegemonic political position in Central Asia which the Tang had lost. On the contrary, throughout the Song period and until the Mongol conquest, China was "among equals" (to use the revealing title by Morris Rossabi) vis-a-vis its neighbors. Indeed, China was on the defensive against repeated threats and incursions by its also economically and politically expanding neighbors in Central Asia, the Kara Khitai empire in particular, and in Manchuria.

Moreover, this external threat was not without effect on the social and economic history of the Sung age. It determined the whole Chinese policy from the end of the tenth century to the end of the thirteenth century. Cut off from access to Central Asia, blocked in its expansion toward the north and north-west by the great empires which had arisen on its frontiers, the Chinese world turned resolutely to the sea. Its center of gravity shifted towards the trading and maritime regions of the south-east, which were extended inland by the enormous network of the Yangtse and its tributaries. The sea routes starting from the Abbasid empire and connecting the Persian Gulf with India, South-East Asia, and the Chinese coast no doubt played a part in this call of the sea.... China was the greatest maritime power in the world. (Gemet 1985: 300, 328, 326)

An important question for us is whether and to what extent Song China can or should be considered to have been in a position of super-accumulation without super-hegemony. Remarks by the eminent world-historian (and author of among other works The Pursuit of Power, 1983) William McNeill to Gunder Frank led us to believe that such a situation may have been the case. On the other hand, there is evidence that Song China suffered from a negative balance of both trade and payments, which would be inconsistent with, indeed contrary to super-accumulation within the world economy. (Other countries, like hegemonic Britain, also had a negative balance of trade over the long term, at least from 1815 to 1914. However, during that time, Britain also enjoyed a positive balance of payments on current account.) Song China, however, seems to have been a net exporter of bullion. Indeed, this apparently long-term structural adversity or handicap of China may have been another one of the reasons why the Ming dynasty finally sought to "de-link" China from the world economy.

Before that, however, the Indian coasts and especially Southeast Asia and China had also experienced a centuries-long economic boom since the eleventh century, which was manifested in fast-growing intra- and interregional trade. Indians, Malays, "Indonesians," and Chinese were especially active in interregional trade to the eof India. On the other side, Indians, Persians, and of course Arabs were active on the west side of the Indian subcontinen. As Janet Abu-Lughod (1989) stressed, in the west Asian/east Mediterranean region, Baghdad, Basra, and the Persian Gulf route declined. One of the reasons was that it was in the interest of the now rising Genovese to favor the more northerly route through the Black Sea and/or for the Venetians to favor the more southerly one through the Red Sea. The development of the latter also benefitted rival Cairo, which consequently rose to prominence and a population of 500,000 under the Mamluks in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, and would even repel the Mongols. "Egypt was a vanguard for the world system" (Abu-Lughod 1989: 227).

Both before and after the domination of the Mamluks, Egypt had a direct link to India and the East Indies and pushed its communication system as far as Mohammedan Spain and the western [sic] Maghreb. Thus, Egypt was the forerunner of Portugal.... At this time in Cairo ... a group of wealthy people had a horizon which included nearly a third of the whole world. (Chaunu 1979: 58; quoted in Abu-Lughod 1989: 227)

Venice and Cairo established a "marriage of convenience" in the attempt to monopolize the Asian-Mediterranean trade between them in competition with their rivals. These included Genoa and its attempt to monopolize the Black Sea route. First competition from Venice and only finally the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 propelled the Genovese to expand westward through the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic instead.

In Central Asia in the eleventh century, the Yamini dynasty of Ghazni (near Kabul) also consolidated a new hegemony, ruling from Hamadan and Isfahan in Persia to the headwater of the Ganges in north-west India. Turkish peoples from Central Asia expanded westward and reached Anatolia. They were then Islamicized and later created the Muslim Ottoman empire and modern Turkey. Turks also began a systematic conquest of India in the twelfth century. This process culminated in the consolidation of the vast hegemonic state of the sultanate of Delhi, which by 1235 ruled from Sind to Bengal. Such was the strength of this consolidation in India, with a centralized administration and standing army, that the sultanate successfully repelled the Mongol invasion led by Genghis Khan.

B phase, 1250/1300-1450 ad

The expansion and consolidation of the Mongol empire began at the end of this long period of expansion and at the onset of a new period of contraction. The Mongols used their military superiority to exploit the situation on a larger and more successful scale than any of their Inner Asian predecessors. They struck first at the Qin in north China. Genghis undertook the conquest of Central Asia against the Muslim empire of Khwarizm. The seizure of Central Asia gave the Mongol imperium the opportunity to assume a position of super-accumulator in the world system. However, the ease of the Mongol conquest in Persia and Mesopotamia was facilitated by the weakness of the Muslim states in west Asia. The economically still stronger state in Egypt was able to resist and repel the Mongol advance. However, elsewhere the economic decline had already begun before the Mongols arrived. Then, the economic downturn that began from the middle of the thirteenth century was made even more severe by the widespread destruction that accompanied Mongol conquests, both in the East and in the West. For instance, the progress of the earlier expansion period in urbanization and trade in Russia was virtually eliminated in the Mongol conquest. Most of the cities (Novgorod excepted) were destroyed, and economic retrogression deepened thereafter. Therefore, despite Mongol consolidation of a vast Eurasian hegemony, an economic downturn of severe proportions affected most of the continent during Mongol tenure. In this respect the hegemony of the Mongols differs from the more usual case of hegemonic expansion during a period of economic upswing. Thus, it is reminiscent of the Gupta hegemony in the economically depressed fourth and fifth centuries and requires special attention.

The collapse of the Mongol imperium in the mid-fourteenth century might be taken as evidence of a world system crisis. If it was indeed the culmination of a "down" phase, we would have to question Abu-Lughod's characterization of 1250-1350 as a generalized "up" phase. Yet Abu-Lughod (1989) herself cites ample evidence that transport and other infra-structural investment and expansion in Venice, Genoa, and in the eastern Mediterranean had declined and halted at least two decades before the arrival of the plague in 1348. Below (chapter 9), she says that prosperity peaked in the opening decades of the fourteenth century, after which signs of decline were already evident.

If the construction and collapse of the Mongol imperium did coincide with the down, as in Wallerstein's periodization, a new explanation is possible for the failure of the Mongol imperium. Traditional explanation of the failure of the Mongols as a ruling class to consolidate their imperium revolves around the theme of their nomadic social organization and its presumed inherent limitations for such a task ("you can conquer, but you cannot rule from horseback"). It is true that the unity of the empire was destroyed early on, in 1260, due to dynastic succession struggles. But if the world economy was already on the downturn by 1250, this itself could help explain why the Mongols could so easily set up their conquest states (except in India) on the back of their already depressed rivals. However, the same world economic depression could then also help account for the Mongols' inability to maintain their power, and why they and everybody else went (temporarily) "to hell in a hand basket."

While the downturn lasted the Mongols continued their predatory depredations. Tamerlane, once again using Central Asian cities (Samarkand) as a base, set out to reconquer and reunify the empire from 1370 to 1405. The sultanate of Delhi had entered into a phase of decline and disintegration and therefore could not resist Tamerlane's onslaught as it had that of Genghis over a century before. But Tamerlane's campaigns were again more destructive than constructive. They did have the historical effect, however, of largely clearing the decks of the Mongol conquest states themselves, such as the Goldon Horde in Russia and the Il-Khans in Persia.


Our purpose here is not (yet) to analyze or reinterpret this period. We provisionally accept the main outlines of others' rendition of the developments, which are relevant to our present study: economic expansion during the "long sixteenth century" from 1450 to 1600+, the "seventeenth-century crisis," renewed economic expansion during the eighteenth-century "commercial revolution," and the conventional dating of the economic ups and downs of the +/-50 year "long" Kondratieff cycles since the end of the eighteenth century. (Frank [1978, written in 1970-3] and more recently Goldstein [1988] also sought to trace these backwards into the sixteenth century.) We also continue provisionally to accept the "associated" political cycles of hegemonic transition and shifts in the now European-centered world system from Iberia in the sixteenth, to the Netherlands in the seventeenth, Britain (twice) in the eighteenth and nineteenth, and the United States in the twentieth centuries.

Therefore, of course, we also value and use the work on long economic cycles of accumulation and political cycles of hegemony in or centered on the West since 1500 by Wallerstein, Modelski and Thompson, Goldstein and many others. (Moreover, Frank's own work [1978] on these cycles was used as a main source for his dating of their turning points by Goldstein [1988].) We recognize the historic significance of the incorporation of the "New World" in the Americas into the world system. Not for nothing did Frank (1978) choose the title World Accumulation 1492-1789 (the latter date being the political cut-off obliged by the military coup in Chile in 19). Therefore, we need not here repeat the alteration of A and B phases of the cycle through the period of the "modem world system."

We pto turn instead to a couple of other interrelated problems. The major one is the similarities and differences between ours and others' point of view on the fundamental world systemic continuity or discontinuity between this "modern" period and the "medieval" and "ancient" ones reviewed above. This modern period has been much more widely researched, recounted, and debated by generations of other scholars. The arguments of many of these are well known, and we have already indicated our main areas of agreement and disagreement with some of them, and in particular with Immanuel Wallerstein, in our introduction above, as well as in previous writings (Gills and Frank chapter 3 above; Frank 1990a, b, 1991; Gills chapter 4 above). However much these other writers may differ among themselves, most do agree that the period around 1500 (or for some around 1800) represents a fundamental break with the past. For them it is the beginning of the fundamentally different modem-world-capitalist-system. For us, and still too few others, still more important is the fundamental continuity with the past within the same world system and its continuing cycles of capital accumulation and hegemony/rivalry.

In her pathbreaking book Abu-Lughod (1989) argues that there was a "thirteenth-century world system," but that it was a different one than that which "began" in the sixteenth century. For her, between the four-teenth-century decline of the world system based in the East and the fifteenth-sixteenth-century rise of the world system centered on the West, there occurred a "declining efficacy" and "organization" of "the ways in which they were formerly connected." We view these changes rather as a "reorganization" and consequently as a shift of the hegemonial center of gravity in the system from East to West - but not as a complete failure of the system as a whole, as she suggests. On the contrary, this temporary disorganization and renewed reorganization can, and we believe should, be read as the continuation and evolution of the system as a whole (Abu-Lughod 1989: 342-5).

Therefore, we even more decidedly agree that "of crucial importance is the fact that the fall of the east precedes the rise of the west," as Janet Abu-Lughod (1989: 338) insists. That is, the world systemic economic and hegemonic crisis of the mid-fourteenth century gave Europe "the chance" to ascend in the hierarchy of the old system, in the context of a new economic expansion and hegemonic reorganization during and following the crisis.

The context... undeniably altered.... The world-system ... arena did move outward to the Atlantic and the Atlantic rim nations of Portugal and Spain, before shifting to northwestern Europe. The fact is that the axis of Central Asia-Anatolia-northem India-and the Levant-Egypt - an axis of central importance in earlier times which was scarcely destroyed by the seventeenth century - never again occupied the center stage of the world system. (Abu-Lughod 1989: 12)

A similar argument had already been made by Marshall Hodgson in the 1950s and by Jacques Gernet in the 1980s: The economic weakness of the pivotal Middle East by the end of the Middle Ages, for instance, seems to have been a decisive factor in the economic and political disposition of the world into which Europe was about to expand. (Hodgson 1954: 718) What we have acquired the habit of regarding - according to the history of the world that is in fact no more than the history of the West - as the beginning of modern times was only the repercussion of the upsurge of the urban, mercantile civilizations whose realm extended, before the Mongol invasion, from the Mediterranean to the Sea of China. The West gathered up pan of this legacy and received from it the leaven which was to make possible its own development. The transmission was favored by the crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the expansion of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.... There is nothing surprising about this Western backwardness: the Italian cities... were at the terminus of the great commercial routes of Asia. The upsurge of the West, which was only to emerge from its relative isolation thanks to its maritime expansion, occurred at a time when the two great civilizations of Asia [China and Islam] were threatened. (Gernet 1985: 347)

In general, the Mongol conquests and the economic crisis also laid the basis for wide-ranging economic reorientation and political reorganization in the following period of economic expansion during the "long sixteenth isentury" from 1450 to 1600+. In direct or indirect response to the changes Brrought by the previous economic crisis and the Mongol invasions, the Ming dynasty rose in China, Akbar's empire rose in India, the Safavid empire rose in Persia, and Europeans began a worldwide imperial and now |also trans-Atlantic venture in the West. It is the latter to which the then 'Eurocentric historiography has devoted most absolute and relative attention. Perhaps too much. For, as we observed in our introduction, until at least the nineteenth century the preponderance even of hegemonic trans-, formation still did not lie exclusively in the West.

The collapse of the Mongol imperium disrupted the land routes through Central Asia and the uninterest of Ming China adversely affected overland trade, particularly in silk. However, the most marked decline did not occur until the seventeenth-century depression. The route via the steppe to the Baltic was also disrupted. However, in the eighteenth century trade revived along the more northerly route through Siberia. Trade also declined via the Gulf port of Hormuz to the Black Sea. The trade corridor via the Red Sea and Alexandria remained open. However, European trade with Egypt and the Levant was conducted primarily through payment in bullion. This stimulated an even greater need for sources of bullion in the West and in Africa and the desire to bypass the Alexandrian and Venetian middlemen, if possible, by finding a direct sea route to India and the spice islands. When Portugal and Spain discovered such routes, backed by Italian finance capital, the result was a drastic shift in the logistical nexus of the world-system and a concomitant shift in the locus of accumulation. Central Asia ceased to be the key node in the world logistical nexus or to be the key area in terms of attaining super-accumulator status.

Thus another problem separating us somewhat from other students of die world system is that we see other parts of the world as having been the most important players in the same world system earlier on. Therefore, we also see some of them as players still in the same world system after 1500 as well. Thus, we will find it necessary to rephrase (or re-pose?) the question of "incorporation" into the system as perceived by Wallerstein and others, e.g. in the 1987 issue of Review dedicated to "Incorporation into the world-economy: how the world-system expands." Moreover, the hegemony first of Iberia in the sixteenth century and then of the Netherlands in the seventeenth, as well as the relative monopolies of trade on which they were based, came at the expense of still operative trading powers among the Ottomans and Indians, among others. As we noted earlier, even the director of the English East India Company Sir Josiah Child still observed in 1680 that "we obstruct their [Mogul Indian] trade with all the Eastern nations which is ten times as much as ours and all European nations put together" (cited in Palat and Wallerstein 1990: 26). Moreover, the Ottoman empire still lay, and indeed expanded, across the East-West trade routes. However, perhaps its ultimate historical fate was influenced if not sealed by the developments in world system history as a whole. The initial Ottoman political expansion occurred during a period of world economic decline in the fourteenth century. Competition with the rising West stopped Ottoman expansion in that direction, overland under Suleiman against theHapsburgs outside Vienna in 1521, and by sea under Selim II against the Italians at Lepanto in 1571. The more successful Ottoman expansion in sixteenth century was in the south-easterly direction and westward along the northern coast of Africa, which were politically weakened and rendered economically less profitable by "the decline of the East." Moreover, the same decline of the Central Asian nexus limited Ottoman opportunities in that direction. Finally, the Mughal advance through the relatively still more attractive India under Babur and his grandson Akbar perhaps pre-empted the Ottomans as well.

Another limitation on Ottoman power and expansion, of course, was the neighboring Safavid empire in Iran/Persia. The Safavids built an empire in the sixteenth century on the ruins left by the Mongol invasion and retreat. Under the Safavids, domestic and international commerce was perhaps more favored than anywhere else in the world at the time. The Safavids sought to maintain and further their political economic interests against their Ottoman and Portuguese competitors. Especially under Abbas I, who ruled from 1587 to 1629, they therefore sought and maintained shifting alliances with the French, Hapsburgs, and British. It was in alliance with the latter that the Persians ousted the Portuguese from Hormuz in 1622. The Portuguese had used their fortress on this strategically located island in the Straits of the same name to exact tribute of protection money from traffic across the Arabian Sea to and from India and Asia.

However, Braudel and others have demonstrated that the shift to the Atlantic still required at least one to two centuries after Columbus. "The general decadence comes over the Mediterranean in the XVII century. In the XVII century, we say, not in the XVI, as is usually claimed" (Braudel 1953: 368). Textile manufacture reached its maximum in Venice in 1592. In Livorna, and probably elsewhere in Italy, the bales of silk "unloaded over the maritime route continued to the end of the [sixteenth] century: there is not the slightest sign of decline" (Braudel 1953: 368-71). At the same time, there was "prosperity in the Red Sea" and "it is true that the old spice route again recovers and prospers after the middle of the [sixteenth] century." "Thus, the Levant trade was not interrupted, neither in the direction of Syria nor in the direction of Egypt" (Braudel 1953: 457, 459, 469). That is, the maritime trade routes through the eastern Mediterranean retained their prosperity at least through the end of the sixteenth century.

However, so did both the circum-Asian maritime and the trans-Asian overland routes through Central Asia. Nor did European intervention, bolstered as it was by its new financial strength derived from the Atlantic trade, change much in the circum-Asian maritime trade. The European sixteenth-century pioneers in this Asian maritime trade were the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese colonial regime, built upon war, coercion, and violence, did not at any point signify a stage of "higher development" economically for Asian trade. The traditional commercial structure continued to exist, however much damaged by religious wars breaking out between Moslems and Christians. Trade did not undergo any increase in quantity worthy of mention in the period. The commercial and economic forms of the Portuguese colonial regime were the same as those of Asian trade and Asian authority.... The Portuguese colonial regime, then, did not introduce a single new element into the commerce of southern Asia. (van Leur 1955: 117-18)

Finally, the circum-Asian maritime trade also still did not displace the trans-Asian caravan trade or the place of Central Asia therein in the sixteenth century.

The destructive effects of the discovery of the sea route to Asia upon the traditional intercontinental trade routes was not felt until after the elapse of an entire century. After a set-back at the beginning of the sixteenth century the trade routes through the Middle East regained their former importance, and at the end of the sixteenth century the transcontinental caravan trade reached dimensions which must presumably be regarded as its historical culmination. (Steensgaard 1972: 9)

Indeed, around 1600 all the silk still moved overland by caravan. Moreover, the tonnage of spices brought westward and to Europe by caravan through Central Asia was still twice that brought by ship (Steensgaard 1972: 56-7). Thus, to the end of the sixteenth century, Central Asia continued to maintain its place in overland trade against both the South Asian maritime trade and the West Asian, Mediterranean, and Atlantic trades.

Then, in the seventeenth century there was economic decline. But, it was a cyclical decline, which was common to all of these regions and routes, including the Americas, during the seventeenth-century world economic crisis. As already noted, in the eighteenth century, trade revived again across Central Asia, albeit along a more northerly route. However, the eighteenth century also finally brought on the "commercial revolution" and the growth of the "triangular trade" across the Atlantic (Frank 1978). That finally served also to shift the center of gravity of trade from the East, including Central Asia, to the West.

Thus, the world and its economic and political relations were still multi-polar well into the seventeenth century. Beyond the intra-European rivalry for hegemony, there were still competing powers in Europe and western and southern Asia among the Hapsburgs, Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. The last three were all Muslim, but they were nonetheless as much rivals among each other as they were with the Christian Europeans who were also rivals both among each other and with these Asian powers.

Beyond the retreat into greater isolation of China under the Ming at one end of Eurasia, another major reason that this historical development eventually became a more unipolar rather than a multipolar transition is, explained by Blaut (1977) with reference to the other end: the west-European maritime powers conquered the Americas and injected their bullion into their own processes of capital accumulation. The westeni-powers then used the same to gain increasing control over the trade nexu of the still attractive and profitable Indian Ocean and Asia as a whole. ThenI they used their power to thwart industrial and commercial competition particularly in India. The subsequent destruction of the Indian textiles-industry must stand out as a particularly important aspect of Blaut's argument.

For, according to Palat and Wallerstein, by the end of the fourteenth century the Indian subcontinent emerged from this crisis as a core production area of cotton textiles in the world economy and became the beneficiary of a huge inflow of bullion as a result of trade surplus. India's trade with West Asia increased exponentially over the next several centuries and tied the economic fates of cities on both sides of the Arabian sea closely together.... At the same time, the maritime trade of India to the east, connecting to the China-Malay trade, experienced a new resurgence, following Sung China's decision to lift its earlier ban on merchant trade. In the wake of this, Srivijaya declined as an intermediary in Southeast Asia to the benefit of ports on the Malay coast. Trade across the Bay of Bengal witnessed a chronological simultaneity of the rise and decline of the most prominent ports at both ends of the eastern Indian Ocean: Pulicat and Melaka, and ... Aceh and Masulipatnam. (Palat and Wallerstein 1990: 26)

Clearly, though, economic recovery in this nexus was in evidence from the mid-fifteenth century. Palat and Wallerstein are willing to speak only of an evolving Indian Ocean world economy. By 1500, this economy combined a set of intersecting trade and production linkages converging on such nodes as Aden and Mocha on the Red Sea; Basra, Gombroon, and Hormuz on the Persian Gulf; Surat and Calicut on the western seaboard of the subcontinent; Pulicat and Hughli on the Coromande and Bengal coasts Melaka on the Malay archipelago; and the imperial capitals such as Delhi and T, connected by caravan trails.

Palat and Wallerstein acknowledge that these centers centralized and dominated transregional trade and that they "at the same pace as the I'outside world, keeping up with the trades and rhythms of the globe" (1990: 30-1; also Braudel 1982: 18). Indeed, so powerful was the production superiority of the Coromandel and Gujarat textile industry that it led to the "deindustrialization" of other areas, and only the navigation laws of the mercantilist European nations, including Britain, kept Indian I textiles out of the west-African and Caribbean markets (Palat and Wallerstein 1990: 33, 49).

Nevertheless, Palat and Wallerstein insist that three autonomous historical systems existed: the Indian Ocean world economy, which centered on China, and the Mediterranean/European zones, which merely converged at intersections. Yet they note the "swift collapse of these cities once their fulcral positions were undermined." But they would have it that "their riches accumulated from their intermediary role in the trade between different world-systems" rather than acknowledge the existence of a single world economy. Furthermore, Palat and Wallerstein conclude that despite the temporal contemporaneity of post-1400 expansion of networks of exchange and intensification of relational dependencies in Europe and in the world of the Indian Ocean, the processes of large-scale socio-historical transformation in the two historical systems were fundamentally dissimilar. In one zone, it led to the emergence of the capitalist world-economy. In the other, to an expanded petty commodity production that did not lead to a real subsumption of labour. (1990: 40)

Of course, we believe that this is an excessively nearsighted view. Alternatively, by relying only on Wallerstein's modern-capitalist-world-system glasses (or is it blinkers?) these and other authors cannot see or adequately interpret their own evidence from the larger and older world system, which is staring them in the face. This essay has been another of our (im?)modest efforts to help them and others reinterpret this evidence from a wider and longer historical perspective. We may try again to summarize some provisional conclusions that seem to emerge from our historical review above.


We do seem to have identified alternating periods of expansion and contraction, which may be part of a world system wide cycle. These may be summarized by Table 5.1.

Table 5.1 A/B economic phases in the world system pre-1500 ad



B phase: 1700-1500/1400 bc

A phase: 1400-1200 bc




B phase: 1200-1000 bc

A phase: 1000-800 bc


B phase: 800-550 bc

A phase: 550-450 bc




B phase: 450-350 bc



A phase: 350-250/200 bc


B phase: 250/200-100/50 bc



A phase: 100/50 bc -150/200 ad


B phase: 150/200-500 ad



A phase: 500-750/800 ad


B phase: 750/800-1000/1050 ad



A phase: 1000/1050-1250/1300 ad


B phase: 1250/1300-1450 ad



A phase: 1450-1600 ad

Our summary table permits the following observations among others:

1 It is possible to identify many economic and political structures and processes over the millennia, which we now (or still) associate with the modern world-capitalist system. In particular, the trinity of core/periphery, hegemony/rivalry, and A/ B-phase cycle seem to be constant or at least recurring structures and processes of the world system. However, so are multiple political hegemonies (or cores) in regional configurations, which are in political economic competition with each other in a wider world economy and system.

2 Over some 5,000 years there seem to have been alternating periods of faster/greater and slower/lower or even negative accumulation. Moreover, these periods apparently were not merely localized or regional and attributable solely to "internal" factors. The periods of alternating expansion and contraction were also interregional and apparently world system wide. For over two thousand years between 500 bc and 1500 ad, these cycles appear to have been four or five centuries long, with up and down phases of approximately two centuries each. This does not exclude possible shorter cycles as well within these longer cycles.

3 Periods of apparently more rapid economic growth are associated with the rise of several regional hegemons, and among them sometimes an apparent transregional or even world system wide super-accumulating super-hegemon. Some important instances appear to have been Achaemenid Persia in the fifth-fourth centuries bc, Tang China in the seventh century ad, and perhaps Song China in the eleventh-twelfth centuries. These all developed during "up" phases of economic expansion. We note that all these aspired to some control over pans of Central Asia. However, only the Achaemenids and the Tang achieved some control over Central Asia, and it was not very widespread or long-lasting. The Song achieved none at all.

4 The third-century Sassanid, fourth-century Gupta, the eighth-ninth-century Abbasid, and the thirteenth-fourteenth-century Mongol hegemons did extend their hegemony into Central Asia.

5 However, the Sassanids and Guptas and then the Mongols achieved their hegemony during major down phases in the third-fourth and thirteenth centuries, respectively. During these periods their rivals had already been weakened. Therefore, these developments of hegemonic power and perhaps others (the USA) developed their hegemony over rivals who had been weakened by economic crisis and war. To a significant extent, the latter was also true of the spread of Abbasid power after Byzantium and Persia were weakened by their own conflicts. However, Abbasid political expansion began in a period of generalized economic expansion. To what extent the leveling of Abbasid power in the ninth century coincided with or was followed by a period of economic stagnation in the ninth and tenth centuries is not so clear. Perhaps Assyrian expansion at the beginning of the first millennium bc should be interpreted similarly.

6 The period of economic downturn and crisis during the time in which these powers achieved their hegemony may also help to account for the relative brevity and instability of their hegemonic power. Thus it appears that maybe both the ascendance to power and its almost immediate subsequent loss by at least the Sassanids and Guptas and of the Mongols may be traced to the underlying economic downturn. The underlying economic downturn first helped eliminate their rivals and then undercut the economic possibilities of the maintenance of prosperity and power of these short-lived hegemons themselves. Each was a flash in the pan.

7 Thus, even control over the Central Asian economic and trade nexuses proved to be insufficient for the maintenance of hegemony in the periods in which there apparently was a down period in the world economic system as a whole.

We do not wish to suggest that there are only cycles and no trends, even if we have paid little attention to the latter in this paper. On the contrary, we believe that these cycles (and probably other technological and sociopolitical ones) are a constitutive and necessary element of (evolutionary) trends of "development." Similarly, we reiterate that not only synchronic simultaneity but also dis-synchronic "fits" are essential parts in this historical process.

Of course, many - indeed most - of the problems related to our endeavor remain. Much more empirical and analytical work is necessary to identify, establish, and analyze:

1 The extent and expansion of die world system in history.

2 The economic cycle, the range of whose effects would also help establish the extent of the system, or vice versa.

3 The regions and/or polities which at various times fit into the cycle synchronically, dis-synchronically, or not at all.

4 The relationships between political hegemony and economic coreness.

5 The trade relations and economic competition, political alliances, and war of rival hegemons with each other and their respective peripheries.

6 The degree to which there may have been super-hegemony and/or super-accumulation at one time or another.

7 The transformatory of B phase crises, and why some are more so than others; and of course

8 The temporal precedence and causative predominance of economic cycles of growth or pcycles of hegemony.

9 What generates the cycle(s) and makes the system tick?

We will be able to derive some partial and very tentative answers from our historical review of political-economic cycles of accumulation and hegemony above. Of course, much more historical work remains to be done. Some work by social scientists that complements our own is being carried forward by Melko (1990), Wilkinson (chapter 7 below and 1987, 1989), Abu-Lughod (1989), Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991), Vasquez (forthcoming), among others. Additional clues for the 5,000-year period might also be derived from the more extensive and careful analysis of the relations of cycles of growth, hegemony, and war for the past 500 years. This analysis has been much developed by Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978), Keohane (1980), Gilpin (1981), Vayrynen (1983), Thompson (1989), Modelski (1987), Rosecrance (1987), Goldstein (1988), and Chase-Dunn (1989a, b), among others. However, we leave the pursuit of these questions for another time.

We wish to end this chapter by calling for greater attention to at least two more factors in this history. One is the ecological factors, which possibly underlie in part both economic and political cycles and their combination all through the ages. Ecological factors are not limited to "exogenous" climatic changes, possibly also cyclical. Today, many people are increasingly conscious of the fact that "endogenous" economic, political, and social (mis)organization also have deleterious effects on the environment, including the climate. However, both planetary and regional climatic cycles and the consequences of human settlement/land use through irrigation, grazing, and forestry; migration; war and the consequent neglect or destruction of both natural and woman-made productive facilities and other endogenous effects on the environment are nothing new. Neither is human consciousness about them. For centuries, "indigenous" peoples have been very concerned about preserving the environment they depend on. Many peoples have "gone under" because they neglected or abused their ecological environment, both in the recent and in the distant past. One of the shortcomings of our general work on the world system so far and specifically of this article is our failure to devote due attention to these ecological factors.

Another largely missing factor in our account is the many bottom-up social movements, which not only responded to cyclically changing economic and political conditions, but probably also influenced them. Those social movements and rebellions occurring during the B phases are of particular theoretical interest. These may have had direct effects on the hegemonic transitions occurring in B phases.

Historically, such bottom-up social movements were almost never successful in achieving their demands. Even so, many were probably "successful" in limiting or at least affecting their rulers options - including their options in their conflicts with their neighboring rulers. Moreover, these effects probably were mostly in unexpected directions, which were not necessarily to the liking of any of those who were affected. In the long history of the world system, people do make their own history, but not necessarily as they choose.


Within a year of this chapter's first public presentation at the thirty-first Annual Convention of the International Studies Association [ISA], March 20-3, 1991 in Vancouver, the following partial preliminary corroboration of our thesis and dating of long cycles took place:

David Wilkinson of the Political Science Department at UCLA presented a paper at the thirty-second Annual ISA Convention specifically to "offer an independent empirical check for the Gills and Frank proposal." Wilkinson tested the datings of our A and especially B phases by calculating increases and declines in city populations (above certain thresholds) previously tabulated by Tertius Chandler (1987). Wilkinson sifted through an enormous number of Chandler's "snapshots" of city sizes taken for convenience or other reasons at times that often did not coincide with our suggested inflection/turning points of A and B phases, and concludes:

The decline data were consistent with treating phases Bl, B2, B6, B7 and B8 (numbered consecutively beginning with the first 1700-1500/1400 B phase in our list) as Old Oikumene decline phases, were ambiguous with respect to B4 and B5, and did not reflect B3. On the other hand there were misfitting decline data for A2, A7 and A8, and potential misfits in ambiguous data affecting A6 and A5; A4 could not be tested and A3 was not challenged. These results are favorable to the proposition that the Old Oikumene showed A-B phases at least as early as the mid-second millennium BC; but considerable refinement of phase time-boundaries, and data collection for crucial but unmeasured years, is called for. (Wilkinson 1992: 30)

Of course. Chandler's city-size data and Wilkinson's use of them are not beyond challenge or dispute, which could further support, modify, or detract from our dating of phases and the geographical regions or civilizational units to which they apply. Moreover, the fits are better for west Asia, from which we took most of our cues, than for east Asia, which was less or later integrated into the "system" - but for which the data may also be less reliable. Significantly however, there was no fit at all between changes in city sizes also-tabulated by Chandler for the western hemisphere and the phases we identified in the eastern hemisphere. This trans-Atlantic misfit offers a significant corroboration of our Eurasian-wide system and cycles. It suggests that, as far as it goes in Eurasia, the fit is not spurious; since it disappears entirely if we try to extend it beyond the "system" across the Atlantic before 1492.

2 At the same ISA meeting, George Modelski of the Political Science Department at the University of Washington in Seattle informed us that one of his graduate students, Andrew Bosworth, again independently from Wilkinson, tested and largely confirmed our long-cycle phases. His subsequent paper "World cities and world systems: a test of A.G. Frank and B. Gills' 'A' and 'B' cycles" was presented at the Canadian Association of Geographers Conference, Vancouver, 21 May 1992. Bosworth concludes that 1) there is significant support in Chandler's data for the existence of long-waves of economic expansion and contraction, each averaging about 250 years in length. Such regularity further reinforces Frank and Gills' contention that these phases condition one another, generating a cyclic alternation. 2) Chandler's data lend strong support to Frank and Gills' timing of the following phases: B1; A2; B2; A3; B4; A5; A6; B8. 3) Chandler's data are inconclusive or lend mild support to ... A and B phases 3000-2000 bc; B4; B5. 4) Chandler's data are inconsistent with the location or timing of B3; A4; B6; A7; B7; A8 [for which Bosworth suggests some minor and some greater adjustments].

3 The archaeologists Andrew and Susan Sherratt of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University kindly sent us their paper "From luxuries to commodities: the nature of Mediterranean Age trading systems," presented in a conference at Oxford in December 1989 and published in its proceedings (1991). Under the subtitle "A historical picture" (367-75) the Sherratts, of course entirely independently from us and without our prior knowledge, distinguish the following Bronze Age periods: 2500-2000 bc, 2000-1700 bc, 1700-1400 bc, 1400-1200 bc, and 1200-1000 bc, which coincide almost exactly with our phase dating. Moreover, their textual description of these periods sounds very similar to our A and B phases, at least for the second millennium bc in that part of the world.

4 Klavs Randsborg (1991) reports and summarizes archaeological evidence on datings of climatic cycles and ups and downs in rural settlements, towns, and other centers, production and exchange, and society, culture, andmentality. Many of his datings and periods for the western end and sometimes more of the geographical area of our "world system" also bear on and often confirm - or offeevidence to permit refinements of - our A and B phases. Moreover, Randsborg notes that "today we realize that at any rate the Western Empire (of Rome) showed signs of weakening long before the rise of Islam and that the Carolingian realm was hardly totally isolated" (1991: 167). After noting that there have been some 500 theories devoted to the collapse of the Roman empire, he writes that the "well known 'third-century crisis'... was accompanied and probably caused by a dramatic shift in the economic centre of gravity... [to] the Levant [which] did not suffer overall decline" or had been the real economic center all along (1991: 169-70). He notes that, by contrast to the 500 theories about its collapse, "considerably fewer" have been devoted to the expansion of the Roman empire; and he concludes that "to fully understand the emergence of the Roman Empire would require study of the centre-periphery relations in Europe and the Mediterranean area that emerged with the Mediterranean civilizations" (1991: 185).

Our study, of which this article on long cycles and hegemonic shifts is but a part, offers a world systemic approach to the study of this as well as other historical and contemporary problems. We are gratified to learn of the two parallel studies by the Sherratts and Randsborg and the two elaborate attempts by Wilkinson and Bosworth to put our "theory" to empirical tests with independently gathered data within a year of its public presentation, which we therefore hope may promote more of "all of the above."

5 A week after the thirty-second ISA Conference, at the joint meetings of the Prehistoric Societies of Britain and France in Bristol, Kristian Kristiansen gave Frank his "The emergence of the European world system in the Bronze Age. Divergence, convergence and social evolution during the first and second millennium bc in Europe," to appear in Europe in the First Millennium bc edited by Jorgen Jensen and Kristian Kristiansen (Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield). He also told Frank about his forthcoming book Europe Before History. The European World System in the Second and First Millennium bc.

In both works, Kristiansen discusses commercial and other links between Mycenaeans in Crete and in central and eastern Europe peoples through the Black Sea as well as between the westernMediterranean and the Tumulus culture in Europe between 1700 bc and especially after 1400 bc, that is during our A phase, and up to the Bronze Age crisis after 1200 which we identified as a B phase. Kristiansen refers to Phoenician expansion through the Atlantic to France and Britain in the ninth and eighth centuries bc, in our A phase. Most significantly, Kristiansen focuses on important events between about 600 and 450 bc and then between 450 and 350 bc. In the first period, Europe was re- or more fully integrated into the Mediterranean and it in turn into the west-Asian world (system?). In central Europe, the Hallstatt cultures first "climaxed" and then "declined" as trade routes shifted and/or they overexploited their peripheries. Between 450 and 350 bc, that is during what we termed a B phase, smaller, regional-scale, more "democratic" regimes spread throughout Europe as commercial connections were again broken.

Most significantly, it was during this same period during the mid-first millennium bc that we identify the incorporation of east Asia into the west-Asian-centered world system, which were connected by Scythian migrations and trade among others. This is also the middle of the same period of what Karl Jaspers termed the "Axial Age," during which major monotheistic religions emerged and spread in various parts of Eurasia, as we noted above. It seems unlikely to have been accidental that all these events, the spread of the world system and its incorporation of distant Asia to the East and Europe to the West, as well as the rise of these religions, all occurred at the same time. Thus, archaeological and historical evidence and its analysis by others more qualified than ourselves does seem to lend ever more support to at least the central part of our thesis about the emergence, spread, and cyclical development of the world system in the first and probably also the second and perhaps even the third millennia bc. Much more work remains to be done, and we are encouraged that so many others are doing it.

6 Philip Kohl has kindly made available to Frank the still unpublished translation of E.N. Chernykn's Ancient Metallurgy in the USSR: The Early Metal Age (Cambridge University Press, 1992), in which the Russian scholar says that "peoples of the EMA [Early Metal Age] cultural zone seem to have shared the same developmental cycle: the formation and decline of cultures at various levels generally coincided.... Such explosions follow some regular rhythm in accordance with [which] various provinces at the same time collapse or emerge." Moreover, Chernykn supplies datings for some of these cycles, which also lend further support to our own suggestions above.

7 Frank has now drawn on the above-cited and other recently available sources to refine the identification, and where necessary/possible revise the dating, of these cycles in the pre-Christian Iron and Bronze Ages and to pursue them further back through the third millennium bc (Frank 1993).


This chapter first appeared in 1992 as "World system cycles, crises, and hegemonial shifts 1700 bc to 1700 ad," in Review 15(4) (fall): 621-87.


Feudalism, capitalism, socialism

Andre Gunder Frank


The present "transition from socialism to capitalism" and the possible future "shift of hegemony from the United States to Japan" are occasions to re-examine several scientific tenets of our politics and political tenets of our social science. Among these are 1) the "transition from feudalism to capitalism," 2) the "transition from capitalism to socialism," 3) the process of "transition" itself, .4) the notion of feudal, capitalist, and socialist "modes of production," and 5) the hegemonic rise and decline of Europe and the West in the modern world-capitalist system. The question arises whether any or all of the above are based on scientific analytical categories, or whether they are derived only from fondly held ideological beliefs. Perhaps both contemporary political reality and available historical evidence should now lead us to abandon some or even all these positions.

My tentative conclusion will be that ideological blinkers - or worse, mindset - have too long prevented us from seeing that the world political-economic system long predated the rise of capitalism in Europe and its hegemony in the world. The rise of Europe represented a hegemonic shift from East to West within a pre-existing system. If there was any transition then, it was this hegemonic shift within the system rather than the formation of a new system. Now, we are again in one of the alternating periods of hegemony and rivalry in the world system, which portends a renewed westward shift of hegemony across the Pacific. To identify the system with its dominant mode of production is a mistake. There was no transition from feudalism to capitalism as such. Nor was there (to be) an analogous transition from capitalism to socialism. If these analytical categories of "modes of production" prevent us from seeing the real world political-economic system, it would be better to abandon them altogether. These categories of "transition" and "modes" are not essential or even useful tools, but rather obstacles to the scientific study of the underlying continuity and essential properties of the world system in the past. They also shackle our political struggle and our ability to confront and manage the development of this same system in the present and future.

A number of recent academic publications offer a good opportunity for such a re-examination of the (un?)holy canons in our historicalscience and contemporary politics. These publications include The Brenner Debate (Aston and Philpin 1985), on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe, Before EuropeHegemony, on the westward shift of hegemony in the thirteenth century, by Janet Abu-Lughod (1989), The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in Europe and America, by Paul Kennedy (1987), Long Cycles in World Politics during the past five hundred years, by George Modelski (1987), On Global War during the same period, by William Thompson (1988), and Global Formation: Structures of the World-Economy then and now, by Christopher Chase-Dunn (1989), as well as other works on hegemonic changes.

Several recent articles by Wallerstein also offer a particularly revealing opportunity to re-examine all the issues posed in my opening paragraphs. Wallerstein (1989a) looked back on the past, and forward to the next, fifteen years of "World-system analysis: the second phase" at the 1989 annual meetings of the American Sociological Association. Under the tide "The West, capitalism, and the modern world system," Wallerstein (1989b)-c6n-siders "why in Europe rather than China" in a contribution to a volume edited by Joseph Needham. In two further articles cited below, Wallerstein (1988,1989c) hones the definition of his modern capitalist world system and its differentia specifica from all others. These articles also offer a good occasion for us to re-examine these issues of transitions and modes, as well as those of origins of and hegemony in the modem world-capitalist system. I will do so in this essay from a historical perspective on a world system history in which Europe was only a Johnny-come-lately and temporary hegemon.

Wallerstein (1989b) asks what is distinctive about the modern "world-system," the capitalist "world-system," and capitalism, which are the same for him. Others might quarrel with him about these identities, but I will accept them for now. Examination of Wallerstein's argument about this distinctiveness will show that it is internally self-contradictory and externally contradicted by the historical evidence. My argument will be that Wallerstein's interpretation is too limited, indeed, self-limiting; because he fails to take sufficient account of the world system.

I made a similar argument about feudalism and capitalism already in a previous debate. Under the title "With what mode of production does the hen convert maize into golden eggs?" I already argued with Rodolfo Puiggros in 1965 that "if we are to understand the Latin American problematique we must begin with the world-system that creates it and go outside the self-imposed optical and mental illusion of the Ibero-American or national frame" (Frank 1965, translated in Frank 1969: 231). I now argue that the same imperative also applies to the problematique of transition between feudal and capitalist modes of production in Europe.

In the last generation, all sides of the Dobb-Sweezy (recently reprinted in Hilton 1976) and Brenner (Aston and Philpin 1985) debates, like generations of "national frame" and other Eurocentric scholars before them, have sought the answer through a change in the mode of production within Europe. Yet if we are to understand this apparently European problematique we must also "begin with the world system that creates it" and abandon the "self-imposed optical and mental illusion of the [European] or national frame." If we (re-)examine Wallerstein's argument and the historical evidence from a world system perspective, it appears that the world system was not born in 1500; it did not arise in Europe; and it is not distinctively capitalist.


Wallerstein identifies the most essential characteristics of the modern world-capitalist system variously in 1, 3, 6, and 12 points. The single most important and defining differentia specifica is: this ceaseless accumulation of capital that may be said to be its most central activity and to constitute its differentia specified. No previous historical system^ seems to have had any comparable mot d'ordre of social limitlessness.... At the level of this central defining activity of ceaseless growth, the ceaseless accumulation of capital... no other historical system could have been said to have pursued such a mode of social life for more than at most brief moments.... The one thing that seems unquestionable, and unquestioned, is the hyperbolic growth curves - in production, population, and the accumulation of capital - that have been a continuing reality from the sixteenth century There was the genesis of a radically new system. (Wallerstein 1989b: 9, 10, 26)

However, accumulation has played a, if not the, central role in the world system far beyond Europe and long before 1500, as Gills and Frank (chapter 3 above) emphasize under the title "The cumulation of accumulation." Numerous historical and theoretical objections to this thesis, including Wallerstein's, are examined in detail and rejected as unfounded in Frank (1990). A small sample of the vast evidence in support of earlier world system accumulation is presented below.

Perhaps the differences become greater if we compare Wallerstein's modern capitalist world-system with alternatives on more counts than just one. Elsewhere, Wallerstein distinguishes three different characteristics that supposedly set his system apart: "this descriptive trinity (core-periphery, A/B [cycle phases], hegemony-rivalry) as a pattern maintained over cen-I, tunes is unique to the modem world-system. Its origin was precisely in .the late fifteenth century" (Wallerstein 1988: 108). As it happens, and ; well before reading Wallerstein's above-cited 1988 article, Gills and Frank (chapter 3 above) emphasized the very same trinity of center/periphery, I'A/B-phased cycles, and hegemony-rivalry as the other central defining I characteristics of our world system. Certainly Chase-Dunn (1986), Abu-I Lughod (1989), Wilkinson (chapter 7 below and 1987,1989), among others, have also found these same features earlier and elsewhere. Wallerstein (1989a) himself recognizes this and said so in his above-cited review at the ' American Sociological Association meetings.

I so perhaps we should go into more detail still. Elsewhere, Wallerstein (l989c: 8-10) summarizes six "realities of the evolution of this historical system. Wallerstein (1989a) also does us the service of cutting up these realities into even more detail and extending the list to twelve "characteristics presumed to be the description of the capitalist world-economy":

(1) the ceaseless accumulation of capital as its diving force;

(2) an axial division of labor in which there is a core-periphery tension, such that there is some form of unequal exchange (not necessarily as defined originally by Arghiri Emmanuel) that is spatial;

(3) the structural existence of a semi peripheral zone;

(4) the large and continuing role of non-wage labor along side of wage labor;

(5) the correspondence of the boundaries of the capitalist world-economy to that of an interstate system comprised of sovereign states;

(6) the location of the origins of this capitalist world-economy earlier than in the nineteenth century, probably in the sixteenth century;

(7) the view that this capitalist world-economy began in one part of the globe (largely Europe) and later expanded to the entire globe via a process of successive "incorporations;

(8) the existence in this world-system of hegemonic states, each of whose periods of full or uncontested hegemony has however been relatively 'brief;

(9) the non primordial character of states, ethnic groups, and households, all of which are constantly created and recreated;

(10) the fundamental importance of racism and sexism as organizing principles of the system;

(11) the emergence of anti-systemic movements that simultaneously undermine and reinforce this system;

(12) a pattern of both cyclical rhythms and secular trends that incarnate the inherent contradictions of the system and which accounts for the systemic crisis in which we are presently living. (Wallerstein 1989b: 3-4)

I contend here (and defend in Frank 1990 and and Frank chapter 3 above) that 240 of these 242 words by Wallerstein about the 12 characteristics of the world system after 1500 are also equally and totally true of world economy/system(s) before 1500, whether "capitalist" or not. The two exceptions of one word each are under (6) the origins probably in the "sixteenth" century and under (7) that this world system began in "(largely Europe)." Everything else Wallerstein says about the presumed characteristics of the "capitalist world-economy" and the "modern world-system" was equally true also of the medieval and ancient world system.

Thus, if we examine these lists, no matter whether of a single defining differentia specifica, or the trinity, or a half-dozen realities, or of the full dozen characteristics, we find that each of them is also equally true of other earlier world systems and/or of the same world system before 1500. Of course, I do not expect readers to accept this statement only on my say-so. They must undertake these comparisons themselves. Fortunately however, in doing so they will find an excellent guide, no doubt better than me, in Wallerstein himself. For he now has some doubts about his own position and finds "an uncomfortable blurring of the distinctiveness of the patterns of the European medieval and modern world" (1989b: 33). Indeed, Wallerstein himself is among those who chip away at, and de facto question, their own "unquestionable" faith in various ways.

Many of these [previous] historical systems had what we might call proto-capitalist elements. That is, there often was extensive commodity production. There existed producers and traders who sought profit. There was investment of capital. There was wage-labor. There was Weltanschauungen consonant with capitalism. But none had quite crossed the threshold of creating a system whose primary driving force was the incessant accumulation of capital. (Wallerstein 1989b: 35, my emphasis)

We must how renew the question, why did not capitalism emerge anywhere earlier. It seems unlikely that the answer is an insufficient technological base.... It is unlikely that the answer is an absence of an entrepreneurial spirit. The history of the world for at least two thousand years prior to 1500+ shows an enormous set of groups, throughout multiple historical systems, who showed an aptitude and inclination for capitalist enterprise - as producers, as merchants, as financiers. "Proto-capitalism" was so widespread one might consider it to be a constitutive element of all the redistributive/tributary world-empires the world has known. . . . Something was preventing it [capitalism]. For they did have the money and energy at their disposition, and we have seen in the modern world how powerful these weapons can be. (Wallerstein 1989b: 59-60, my emphasis)

Moreover, Wallerstein also negates the uniqueness of his "modern-world-capitalist-system" in numerous other passages and ways. Since it would be tedious to dissect all these instances, I will limit myself to citing a representative few. "All the empirical work of the past 50 years on these other systems has tended to reveal that they had much more extensive commodification than previously suspected... It is of course a matter of degree" (1989b: 19, 20). So are the relation and relative "political control" and "extra-economic coercion" to the "free" market here and there, then and now (1989b; 14).

After Wallerstein's own recount of (proto)capitalist "elements" and matters of degree far and wide, long before 1500, it would be even more tedious for me to repeat my own as set out in Frank (1990) and even more in Gills and Frank (chapter 3 above). Suffice it to observe here\that 1) Wallerstein will readily admit that "hyperbolic growth curves in production, population and accumulation of capital" have been cyclical since 1500; and 2) Wallerstein and others must also recognize that in many times and places rapid and massive growth of production, population, and accumulation occurred for much more than "brief" moments long before 1500. Wallerstein himself helps us observe that this was true for instance during the period 1050-1250 in Europe. The same, only much more so, also occurred at the same time in Song China. Some centuries earlier, capital accumulation accelerated in Tang China, then in the Islamic caliphate, and previously in Gupta India and Sassanian Iran, among many other instances.

However, the economy and polity of the ancient and even the archaic world (system) were also characterized by all Wallerstein's "elements" of proto-capitalist (capital, money, profit, merchants, wage-labor, entre-preneurship, investment, technology, etc.) emphasized above and the ones he synthesized for the "modern" world-capitalist system (capital accumulation, core-periphery, hegemony, interstate system, cycles, racism, sexism, social movements - the lot). Simply recall the examples best known to westerners: Rome, China (great canals and walls), Egypt and Mesopotamia (irrigation systems and monuments). What is more (important for world system analysis), long cyclical ups (and subsequent downs) in accumulation may be said to have been world-systemic if not world system wide. The important reason is that they were systemically and systematically related to each other, e.g. in Han China, Gupta India, Parthian and then Sassanian Persia, imperial and then Byzantine Rome, Axum East Africa, and of course "barbarian" Inner Asia, not to mention other parts of the world.

That is, the historical evidence also meets the more difficult test of the specificity of capitalism posed by Maurice Godelier (1990). Godelier makes a fourfold classification of characteristics similar to those of Wallerstein. Godelier's position is even further from mine than Wallerstein's. Yet even Godelier remarks that the four characteristics of capitalism he identifies did not begin with capitalism. However, he argues that the necessary and sufficient conditions of a new (capitalist) economic structure are their "combination in a new relation" and their "mutual connection" with each other (1990: 9-10). Yet the historical evidence shows that even the combination and mutual relation of Godelier's 4, or Wallerstein's 3, 6, or 12 characteristics did not begin with capitalism in 1500.

Significantly, however, Wallerstein and the Others, excepting Wilkinson, are only talking about some similarities with other "world" systems. Following them so far, I am only arguing from the old adage that "if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck (and demonstrably exhibits nine other descriptive realities besides, which Wallerstein summarizes for his world-system), it must also be a (world system) duck." Butjp that case, it or they could just be one or more other world-system ducks, as Chase-Dunn argues. Even Wallerstein might admit this comparison, though the similarities might make him uncomfortable. So what is this invisible and still unspecified "something" that distinguishes the modern world-capitalist system? Perhaps, then, it is only the Weltanschauung of capitalism itself by Smith and Marx, and Wallerstein and Amin now, as well as by most others, which retrospectively sees a qualitative break around 1500 where historically there was none. We will observe below that the essential something in this Weltanschauung they all share turns out to be the supposed identity of the (capitalist) mode of production and system. According to Smith and Marx who led me astray in writing my own book two decades ago, the discovery of America and of the passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope were the greatest events in the history of humankind and opened up new ground for the bourgeoisie. That is from a European point of view, of course. But from a wider world perspective these two events, as well as others within Europe, were only developments in the unfolding of world history itself. Why were these two new passages to the East and West Indies important, even for Europeans, and why did they want to go there in the first place, if it was not because of what was going on there - and what was to be gotten there - before 1500?


Jacques Gernet (1985: 347-8) proposes an alternative world perspective: what we have acquired the habit of regarding - according to the history of the world that iin fact no more than the history of the West - as the beginning of modern times was only the repercussion of the upsurge of the urban, mercantile civilizations whose realm extended, before the Mongol invasion, from the Mediterranean to the Sea of China. The West gathered up part of this legacy and received from it the leaven which was to make possible its own development.

The transmission was favored by the crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the expansion of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.... There is nothing surprising about this Western backwardness: the Italian cities... were at the terminus of the great commercial routes of Asia.... The upsurge of the West, which was only to emerge from its relative isolation thanks to its maritime expansion, occurred at a time when the two great civilizations of Asia [China and Islam] were threatened.

In other words, the real issue is not just whether there were other world system ducks earlier and elsewhere that had the same 1, 3, 6, or 12 characteristics as Wallerstein's world system duck. Nor is the issue one of transition between one and the other such ducks or systems. The real questions are whether there really was a transition to the birth of this world system around 1500, or whether the real historical development of this same ugly world system duckling reaches further back in time, and whether this system and the motive forces for its "transitions" were based in Europe or elsewhere in the wider world.

I believe that what Jacques Hamel and Mohammed Sfia (1990) call a "continuist" perspective is appropriate in answering these questions. Such a perspective is suggested in their "Presentation" of Wallerstein, Godelier, and others in Sociologie et Societes. From that perspective, the historical record suggests that this same historical world economic and interstate system is at least five thousand years old. There was more continuity than discontinuity or even transition in this world (capitalist) economy as a historical system across the supposed divide of the world around 1500. More detailed support for this continuity is presented in Frank (1990) and Gills and Frank (chapter 3 above). Moreover, therefore, if there really was a "transition to capitalism" in the sixteenth century (which is also subject to challenge), it took place not in Europe or especially due to changes within Europe but instead in the long pre-existing world system and importantly due to changes in the system outside Europe. In other words, "to understand the problematique ... [of transition 'in' Europe] we must begin with the world system that creates it!"

To anticipate some academic scientific and practical political conclusions, we may well recognize the last of Wallerstein's above-cited six points about the historical system: the system may well have a life cycle, as he says. But this cycle need not, and did not, begin with any transition from feudalism around 1500 as Wallerstein claims . . . and it need not, and may not, end in 20502100 with a transition to socialism as Wallerstein suggests. If we can identify any real transitions, each is likely really to be a transition between a transition and a transition.

On these issues of transition and/or continuity in the world system, Wallerstein's own account is again helpful, even though - or perhaps because - its short-sighted Eurocentric perspective and internally contradictory arguments seriously undermine his own central argument and position. Thus, like Gernet, Abu-Lughod, and others, Wallerstein also takes note of the Mongols and the Crusades, but...

The feudal system in western Europe seems quite clearly to have operated by a pattern of cycles of expansion and contraction of two lengths: circa 50 years (which seem to resemble the so-called Kondratieff cycles found in the capitalist world economy) and circa 200-300 years. The patterns of the expansions and contractions are clearly laid out and widely accepted among those writing *** the late Middle Ages and early modern times in Europe.... It is the long swing that was crucial. Thus 1050-1250+ was a time of the expansion of Europe (the Crusades, the colonizations).... The "crisis" or great contractions of 1250-1450+ included the Black Plague. (1989b: 33, 34)

Thus, even according to Wallerstein there was systematic cyclical continuity across his 1500 divide. Moreover, since Wallerstein omits doing so (despite his comparison with China), we may note in passing that not incidentally 1050-1250 was also the time of great advances in technology, accumulation, and expansion in Song China; and that the crisis of\ 1250-1450 was world (system) wide, including China, as Abu-Lughod (1989) has rightly emphasized. Thus the clearly laid-out "pattern of expansions and contractions," including probably that of "demand and prices" (Wallerstein 1989b: 14) was not just (west) European, but perhaps world system wide. At the very least, their manifestations in Europe were also a function of its (cyclically determined?) changing center-periphery relations of trade and hegemony-rivalry with other parts of the world economy. All these not only merit study per se or to put the whole historical *** puzzle together, but they require analysis to make any sense out of changes in Europe - or in any other part of Eurasia and Africa. That is, the systemic relations extended far beyond Europe.

Yet even Wallerstein also recognizes several additional pieces of the jigsaw puzzle outside of Europe. Nonetheless, he is still unable to put it together; because he remains wedded to his old Weltanschauung.

The collapse of the Mongols [was a] crucial non-event. The eleventh-century economic upsurge in the West that we have discussed was matched by a new market articulation in China.... Both linked up to a Moslem trading ecumene across the Middle East. China's commercialization reinforced this model [why not system?]. The Mongol link completed the picture. What disrupted this vast trading world-system was the pandemic Black Death, itself quite probably a consequence of that very trading network. It hurt everywhere, but it completely eliminated the Mongol link. (1989b: 57, 58, my emphasis)

For Wallerstein, the collapse of the Mongols was the last of "four elements in an explanation" of the rise of capitalism in the West out of "the effect of the cumulated collapses." The other three were "the collapse of the signeurs, the collapse of the states, the collapse of the Church" (1989b:47). There were political-economic factors behind all four collapses. "Most governments became bankrupt... incapable of controlling their mercenaries,... The Church was a major economic actor itself, and was hurt by the economic downturn in the same way that both signeurs ... and states . .. were hurt" (1989b:47-55). Yet Wallerstein refuses to draw the logical - and historical - conclusions: to put the whole picture in the *** puzzle together, we must liberate ourselves from the imaginary transition within the imaginary system confined to Europe. The solution to the puzzle of the four simultaneous and cumulative collapses and to the "crisis of feudalism in Europe" itself was (to be) found outside the limited and optically illusory framework of "feudal Europe." We must 'instead look at the real transitions in the real world system and its history as a whole. The resolution of the "crisis of feudalism" involved changing relations within, and further expanding of, the whole world system itself - of course, at a world system time, which propitiously rendered this solution possible if not necessary.


To understand this and subsequent transitions therefore, we should:

1 Abandon the schema of a "European" world (system) and look outside. Wallerstein and so many others look out the window from their European house; but they still cannot see its (still marginal) place in the world landscape. The Mare seen as "the link" in a Chinese-Islamic "trading world-system" before 1500 and yet Wallerstein and others still refuse to accept the prior existence of this system.

2 Look at the whole world system. China, the M, the Islamic world, and Europe, not to mention other parts of the Afro-Eurasian oikumene were linked into a trading and interstate world system in the thirteenth century, a, la, Abu-Lughod. Should we recognize that this was the world system out of whose crisis hegemonic European capitalism emerged? Posing the right question is getting more than half the right answer. Wallerstein provides another part of the right answer himself. Of course, however, since he refuses to pose the question, he also does not see the answer. Was the "crucial cycle" limited to Europe? Most probably not. Wallerstein himself suggests some of its extra-European elements. Indeed, all four of the political economic elements of his explanation for the rise of capitalism in Europe include extra-European elements: the Mongols most obviously so, but also the financial crises of the governments, landlords, and Church in Europe. All were related to - in part reflections of? - the development of the 1250-1450 crisis outside Europe and in the world system as a whole. Similarly, the 1050-1250 expansion in Europe had also been part of a world (system) wide expansion (or else why would or could the Crusaders have gone eastward to seek fortune?). The crucial cycle was in the world system itself.

3 Recognize long cycles of development in this world system. Wall-erstein recognizes that "it is the long swing that is cnrfial: "1050-1250 up-swing and 1250-1450 downswing... and 1450-1600 long sixteenth century" (renewed) upswing, before the renewed "seventeenth century crisis." Moreover, Wallerstein recognizes that it was the "crisis" during the 1250-1450 downturn that led to "cumulative collapse" and then to regeneration and a new "genesis." However, Wallerstein and others neglect to ask - and therefore to find any answer - to the crucial question: crisis, collapse, new genesis in what systems. Of course, as George Modelski (who is also incapable of seeing this system, vide Modelski 1987) correctly pointed out to my seminar, "in order for us to look for a cycle, we must first be clear about the system in which this cycle occurs." So there are two possibilities: the same European system predates 1500, or Europe was part of a world system (also the same) that also predates 1500. Either way Wallerstein's and others' temporal and Eurocentric myopia blinds them to seeing the whole picture of systemic historical reality.

4 Consider the probability of a continuous cyclical process of development in/of the same single world system. Of course, if there was a long cycle and it was crucial, the 1050-1250 upswing and the 1250-1400 downswing must have been the cyclical expression and development of an already existing system. However, in that case of course, also, the 1050-1250 upswing may well have been a (re)genesis from a previous crisis/collapse/downswing, which in turn was the culmination of a previous upswing, and so on ... how far back? Curiously, Wallerstein sees^ a single cycle, at least in Europe, but a variety of "unstable" systems around the world, each of which "seldom lasted more than 4-500 years" (1989b: 35). On the other hand, Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a single world system, certainly in the thirteenth century, on which she concentrates, but also in earlier periods. However, each of her world systems cyclically rise (out of what?) and decline (into what?). Neither Wallerstein nor Abu-Lughod is (yet?) willing to join their insights in the additional - obvious? - step to see both a single world system and its continuous cyclical development.

5 Realize that hegemony in the world system did not begin in Europe after 1500, but that it shifted to Europe in the course of hegemonic crises and decline in the East of the same world system. Even Wallerstein quotes Abu-Lughod (1989) that "Before European hegemony, the Fall of the East preceded the Rise of the West." Abu-Lughod is at pains to show how and why the various parts of the East declined at this time in world-systemic terms. Therefore, the root causes of the rise of the West to hegemony and the transition to capitalism in Europe cannot be found within Europe alone, but must be sought in the course of the development of the world system - and also within its other parts - as a whole. "If we are to understand the problematique ... we must begin with the world system that creates it!"

6 Pursue the origins of the world system - and of its development in the past half-millennium - as far back in time and out in space as the historical evidence and our ability to analyze it permit. Wallerstein (1989b: 37) writes: Obviously, any historical occurrence has immediate roots whose derivation can be traced back, ad infinitum. However, if we believe that the critical turning-point was 500-2500 years earlier, we are coming up with a cultural-genetic explanation which in effect says that the development of capitalism/"modernity" in the West, and in the West first, had been rendered "inevitable" by this earlier "civilizational" system.

The first sentence is true, and so is the premise in the first half of the second. However, the conclusions in the remainder are totally unwarranted and triply false. Tracing the roots of the present world system backwards in no wise obliges us to come up with cultural-genetic explanations; still less with civilizational ones; and least of all with the inevitability of the present or future outcome. It is at least equally possible and as I argue here, much preferable - to come up with a longer and wider historical systemic explanation, within which earlier civilizational factors play only a partial role, and inevitbility none at all. Therefore, Wallerstein's otherwise correct rejection of causation by alternative civilizational factors and their various interpretations by others is largely beside the point.

The "explanation" is not to be sought through the civilizational roots of the rise, nor the decline, of Rome, which Wallerstein (1989b: 37-9) discusses after other authors. The same goes for his discussion (pp. 3947) of the "hurrah" for later culture in England and Italy schools. Instead, we should seek the explanations in the development of the world system, within which Rome (and its rise and decline) were only regional pans (along with Parthian Iran, Gupta India, Han China, Central Asia, and Africa) and transitional phases. The same goes for Italy and England. This holistic systematic analysis does not, of course, deny the importance of local, national, regional, or other developments. It only places them in systemic contexts, which also influence these developments - and are in turn influenced by them. However, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the problematique of no part is properly understandable in isolation from the whole of which it is but a pan. Wallerstein, of course, understands this truth full well - for the period since 1500. But he (still) subjectively refuses to admit it for the time before, despite the evidence he himself cites, which objectively supports it. I examine much more evidence for tracing this world system back at least 5,000 years and challenge as unfounded the even greater reservations of others against so doing in Frank 1990 and Gills and Frank chapter 3 above.

7 Do not pursue the idea of "proto-captalism" into the blind alley it is likely to be. The first supposed resolution of the feudalism-capitalism debate a quarter-century ago was to try to "compromise" on "semi-feudalism" going on to become "semi-" "proto-" capitalism. I thought that this "compromise" was a nonstarter then; and experience has shown that the "mode of production" debate detracted from better understanding of the problematique analyzing the world system that creates itself. Wallerstein made his major contribution by taking this high road himself. It is likely only to befuddle our analysis again to argue now that the essential characteristics of the modem world-capitsystem, quoted in 240 of the 242 words of Wallerstein's 12-point synthesis above, also are "proto-capitalist" "elements," which can be found all around the world in different times and "systems." It is better to proceed as Wallers(1989b: 16) does with the effort... to establish a continuous pattern of scientific/ technological advance, located in many different world regions (China, India, the Near [to us] East, the Mediterranean zone), into which recent western scientific efforts have fit themselves, primarily since the sixteenth century. By underlining the continuities, this argument reduces the distinctiveness of what occurred in western Europe. Furthermore, it has been argued that, in this arena as in many others, Europe had previously been a "backward" or "marginal" zone, implying therefore that any explanation of significant change could not be accounted for exclusively or even primarily in terms of some west European affinity ... or tradition.

Of course, this means that recourse to the idea of "proto-capitalism" in "different" and "earlier" systems is not at all helpful. Instead, it is much more useful to recognize that technical change and capital accumulation, as well as all other characteristics of Wallerstein's "modern" world system also characterized earlier times and system(s). In that case indeed, "we find an uncomfortable blurring of the distinctiveness of the patterns [of capitalism and proto-capitalism] of the medieval and modern world" (1989b: 33). What is it then that makes Wallerstein and others so "uncomfortable"? The answer is that this systemic holistic procedure threatens to pull the rug out from under the very foundations of their "scientific" edifice and also of their fondest ideological beliefs!

8 Liberate ourselves from the optical illusion of the false identity of "system" and "mode of production." Samir Amin contends that the system could not have been the same system before 1500 because it did not have the capitalist mode of production, which only developed later. Before 1500, according to Amin and others, modes of production were tributary. My answer is that the system was the same no matter what the mode of production was. The focus on the mode of production blinds us to seeing the more important systemic continuity. Wallerstein makes the same confusion between "mode" and "system." Indeed the single differentiae specificae of Wallerstein's modem world-capitalist system is its mode of production. Wallerstein's identification and also confusion of "system" and "mode" is evident throughout his works and widely recognized by others. So it is in the article I am "dissecting" here. For example: the difference between capitalism as a mode of production and the multiple varieties of a redistributive or tributary mode of production is surely not, as often asserted... [in] "extra-economic coercion." For there is considerable extra-economic coercion in our capitalist/"modern" historical system, and markets of some kind have almost always existed in other historical systems. The most we can argue is a distinction that is more subtle. (1989b: 14)

Wallerstein's system is his mode. So it is for Amin (1989), Brenner (Aston and Philpin 1985) - and also for their ideological opponents on the Right. (It may be appropriate to note parenthetically that our disagreement has generated long friendly discussions with the last named and still permits collaboration in our second joint book on contemporary problems with the first two in Amin et al. [1990]. Moreover, both have written responses to my historical arguments in Amin [chapter 8 below] and Wallerstein [chapter 10 below].) Nonetheless, I maintain that once Wallerstein and Amin rattle at this mode so much as to blur its distinctiveness, they also rattle at the scaffolding of the construction of this system in 1500 - to the point of the total breakdown of Wallerstein's argument about the differentiae specificae and the beginning of his modern world-capitalist system. The 1, 3, 6, or 12 essential characteristics of the world system, and its beginning, antedate Wallerstein's period by far.

We should separate our notions of system and mode. Then, we could at least recognize the real existence and millennial development of the world system. I believe it is high time to abandon the sacrosanct belief in the ideological formulations about these supposed different modes of production or the supposed transitions between them in the millennial world system. A transition is a transition between a transition and a transition, as I learned in Allende's Chile.

Therefore, I agree with Godelier (1990) when he says (p. 35) that there are various ways to be materialist. However, I do not agree with his opinion (p. 28) that making a theory of the articulation of modes of production or the transitions among them is now a task of greatest urgency. On the contrary, I believe that materialism, experience, and good sense urge us to abandon this quest and to seek another more fruitful one based on the material analysis of material world system development.

9 Therefore, also dare to abandon (the sacrosanct belief in) capitalism as a distinct mode of production and separate system. What was the ideological reason for my and Wallerstein's "scientific" construction of a sixteenth-century transition (from feudalism in Europe) to a modern world-capitalist economy and system? It was the belief in a subsequent transition from capitalism to socialism, if not immediately in the world as a whole, at least through "socialism in one country" after another. Traditional Marxists and many others who debated with us, even more so, were intent on preserving faith in the prior but for them more recent transition from one (feudal) mode of production to another (capitalist) one. Their political/ideological reason was that they were intent on the subsequent transition to still another and supposedly different socialist mode of production. That was (and is?) the position of Marxists, traditional and otherwise, like Brenner (Aston and Philpin 1985) and Ander-son (1974). That is still the position of Samir Amin (1989), who, like Wallerstein, now wants to take refuge in "proto-capitalism" - and by extension "proto-socialism." (Before he was ousted after the Tiananmen massacre, Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang came up with the idea that China is now only in the stage of "primary" socialism.) If Maurice Godelier and Samir Amin among others would dare to undertake a "transition" from their "scientific" categories, they could spare themselves and their readers some of the political (dis)illusions regarding recent events in the "Second" and "Third" Worlds.


Is there a scientific/historical/academic justification for meddling with "proto-capitalism" in such a supposed long transition from feudalism to capitalism - or from capitalism to proto-socialism? No, definitely not, as the internal contradictions in Wallerstein's argument amply demonstrate.

So is there still a political/ideological reason to hold on to the fond belief in a supposed "transition from feudalism to capitalism," around 1800, or 1500, or whenever - to support the. belief in a "transition to socialism" in 1917, or 1949, or whenever? Is there any such reason still to continue looking for this earlier transition and its hegemonic development only in Europe, while real hegemony is now shifting (no doubt through the contemporary and near-future nonhegemonic interregnum) back toward Asia? No, there is none.

Ironically, Ronnie Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, and all the capitalists they represent are equally - or even more - infatuated with the ideology of capitalist distinctiveness, except that they glorify it. Their opponents on the Left disagree with this valuation and still want to overcome capitalism through the transition to socialism. The Right, instead, want to preserve and glorify capitalism while they glory in the self-destruction they see of Marxism, socialism, and the Evil Empire of the others. However, their ideological faith in the supposedly universally beneficial glories of the "m" of the market, of course, also lack scientific foundation in reality. The world system wide reality is the competitive dog-eat-dog war of all against all (a la Hobbes), in which only the few can win and the many must lose. And so it has beenfor millennia, thanks to the world system's unequal structure and uneven process, which Wallerstein helps us identify.

We would all do better to see the reality of the globe-embracing structure and the long historical development of the whole world system itself, full stop. Better recognize this system's "unity in diversity," as Mikhail Gorbachev said at the United Nations. That would really be a "transition" in thinking. This "transition" would help us much better to choose among the diversities which are really available in that world system - Vives cettes differences! Moreover, this transition in thinking could also help us to understand the real transitions that there are and to guide us in the struggle for the good and against the socially bad difference - A luta continual


This chapter first appeared in 1991 as "Transitional ideological modes: feudalism, capitalism, socialism," in Critique of Anthropology 11 (2) (summer): 171-88.


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